Title: Dark Horizons 1 : Dark Crichton
Disclaimer: I DON'T OWN ANYTHING HERE…I mean, well I did write it, but I don't own the characters or possess any kind of permit thingy from anyone even related to people who work on the show Farscape. If you don't sue me, I promise to write a better story next time (note: don't sue me then either, k?)
Spoilers: Oh you bet! If you don't know how season 1 ended…man, don't read this! YOU NEED TO HAVE SEEN FAMILY TIES TO UNDERSTAND THIS!!!
SPECIAL NOTES FOR THIS SERIES!!!!!
Yes, this is a series, but no, there is no continuity. The best way to explain this is to look at the title. The Dark Horizons Series is all about one character at a time, twisted into a story line separate from the established on the show. Specifically, these stories may go over new ground, or may revise old episodes in traditional "WHAT IF?" format. Basically, one character is not nearly as nice as they've been portrayed on television. This may sound funky, but it will throw you for a loop, and trust me, it makes more sense as you go along.
Special Thanks To: Michelle…my advisor on all things plot-related…all technical mistakes are all my own, so please, don't think for a moment anyone as smart as my buddy Michelle would miss those obvious errors which fill me with shame….
"Captain, the leviathan is in our custody. Shall we board her or offer them a chance to surrender?" The silent man, sitting in darkness, made no answer. "Captain? Scorpius has advised that we board. Shall I follow those orders?"
"I make the orders on this ship, Lieutenant Ghon."
"Yes, sir. Your orders, sir?" The captain sighed, placing a finger astride his temple. The capture would go successfully one way or the other; there could be no fail. Either the prisoners would be killed, or they would surrender. Surely, they knew it was hopeless. The leviathan was crippled, dying. The vacuum of space threatened its integrity, or so the reports claimed. No reason to risk the lives of his men by attempting to board and take over a lost ship.
"Broadcast a demand for surrender, Lieutenant."
"Yes, sir." The other man clicked his heels together and exited swiftly, repeating the orders to the communications crew. He returned a moment later, triumph on his face. "They have accepted our demand, sir. Shall we board?"
"No, Lieutenant. Tell them to board one of their pods. We will pull them in. Then destroy the leviathan." The lieutenant nodded and ran out again. The captain smiled, leaning his chin in his hand. He tapped the video feed into his own chamber so he could watch the unfolding events. The view was split, one side to show the leviathan, the other, and the docking bay, where the prisoners would arrive.
The entire capture and defeat had taken less than an arn, something that would be reported as a tremendous victory of skill and intelligence on the captain's part. This would most likely lead to his first commendation, though certainly not his last, if he had anything to say about it.
The prisoners' pod opened, and the three life forms stepped out, all signaling surrender, keeping their limbs away from their bodies, allowing the soldiers to bind them. The two females were led away first, the tiny Hynerian royal last. His insistence on keeping his throne sled was met with resistance, and the resistance convinced him to abandon that luxury.
The captain's eyes flickered to the other screen. Thirty or more prowlers were continuing the work that they had started in the first assault. The leviathan was slowly being destroyed by each hit, very slowly, as the captain had wished, though never ordered. He made a mental note to see that Lieutenant Ghon received a commendation as well. Such instincts were to be rewarded.
The leviathan, dying and collapsing in on itself, shuddered once or twice; each twitch widened the smile on the captain's face. The freed prisoner transport and its pilot were now destroyed and would no longer be an embarrassment to High Command. Lieutenant Ghon arrived once more, but he waited for the captain's signal to enter. From his position, the captain could see the three prisoners being held in line behind Ghon. Smiling, the captain waved for him to enter. Ghon had brought the prisoners without the request being tendered. Yes, the lieutenant would be commended.
"The prisoners, sir. One Delvian, one Hynerian, one Nebari. The leviathan and her pilot are dead." The captain nodded, the moving outline in the shadows the only visible clue he had reacted at all. "Your orders, sir?"
"You are excused, Lieutenant Ghon. Summon Scorpius immediately. I believe he shall wish to question our prisoners. Be sure to have his Aurora Chair at the ready." Ghon scurried to follow those orders. The Delvian held her chin high in defiance; the Hynerian was doing his best impression of boredom. The Nebari, on the other hand, was curious about captain. She squinted into the darkness at the figure.
"Captain Crais is no longer with us." The captain laughed, mocking her ignorance. "I had thought you knew of his treachery. No wonder you were so easily trapped. You are too stupid to survive as a fugitive for too long, Chiana." Chiana stepped back, edging behind Zhaan.
"We have eluded your forces for more than a cycle now, Peacekeeper. Can you honestly claim we are stupid?" Zhaan's defiance never failed her. The captain laughed, barking his amusement and then cutting it short as abruptly as it had begun. All three stared through the shadows for the source of the maniacal laughter. The captain's smile never left his lips.
"Yes, P'au Zhaan, I can. Your pursuers were ever ignorant, but I am smarter than they or you." Chiana's eyes widened in terror, as he stood, moving into their lighted area. Soon, the Nebari had loaned her terror to the others. It was the terror of recognition. Not caring why they feared him, just so long as they were afraid, the captain grinned more sinisterly.
"Lieutenant Ghon," he called out. The lieutenant, always within earshot, and having just finished his task, entered the captain's quarters at attention.
"Take these three to join the Luxan and the traitor." A small glimpse of relief fluttered across Zhaan's face. Noticing this, the captain addressed her.
"Did you think we were barbarians, P'au Zhaan? No, he will live to be jailed for the rest of his life, as ordered. As shall you and the royal. The traitor awaits her trial. You," he pointed at Chiana, "will be more useful elsewhere. Lieutenant," he gestured and Ghon called in his men; all three escorted the prisoners out. As she was being dragged through the door, Chiana cast a sad look over her shoulder at the captain, which he ignored. Ghon waited for further instruction. None was forthcoming. Ghon turned to nod to Scorpius when he arrived. Scorpius passed the lieutenant without a word or gesture that even recognized his presence. His path was directed straight towards the captain's desk.
"I believe you called for me, Captain Crichton?"
"Aeryn!" Chiana cried as she was flung into the cell with the ex-Peacekeeper. Aeryn accepted the Nebari's worried hug and even returned it. The pain and the streaks from tears had told her enough. Chiana, too, had met the 'Captain.' The guards deposited Zhaan in D'Argo's cell, but Rygel was placed in a simple hanging cage, barely large enough for even his diminutive body. The two sentries nodded as the other soldiers left, and then turned their backs to the prisoners.
"Aeryn, what is going on?" Zhaan called over from across the corridor separating their cells.
"I don't know. I've been here with D'Argo for the past who-knows-how-long and we've not heard much," she dropped her head, cutting herself short before she could add 'except who our Captain is.' The Delvian priestess sensed this and swore a quick prayer to the goddess for her friend's soul.
"What happened to you? How did they find you?" Chiana lightly poked Aeryn at her side to draw her attention. Aeryn shrugged.
"I couldn't hesitate any longer, I had to move in before D'Argo..." she paused, quite sure that they did not need to have that particular detail described. "Anyway, three other Prowlers saw me, and instead of shooting, they helped. One had a lock on me, to make sure I didn't try to escape. The second picked up D'Argo, the last had…" Aeryn stopped herself yet again. For at least two weekens now, she had known only 'Captain Crichton,' the man who wore John's face. She could tell herself that over and over, but thinking about John Crichton, the man she had known before this mess…still hurt.
"How the yotz did they find us though!?!" Rygel barked from his cage. Zhaan bowed her head unwilling to volunteer the reason they all must believe. D'Argo was not so reticent.
"Crichton found you. He knew where to look."
"How?" Chiana whispered, a shiver causing her voice to shake.
"They scanned for human artifacts on Moya. I overheard the guards talking," Aeryn sighed as she explained. The three new prisoners all looked shocked. How could it have been that easy? Noticing their reactions, Aeryn added, "They figured out how to do it by using him as a template. Wherever there were traces of his DNA, left over from blood, or sweat, they could use their scanners to trace it." Chiana only partially understood, but she did not ask anything further. Crichton was lost to them now, there was no reason to question why or how. That could always come later.
"Have they interrogated either of you…with that chair?" Chiana squirmed under Aeryn's gaze; she did not want to hear a 'yes' to that question.
"No, actually. They've been too busy with Crichton and finding you to bother with us. Under standard procedure, I should have been shipped for court martial already."
"And I to a lifer's colony," D'Argo added gruffly.
"Is it possible he is only pretending?" Zhaan's hopeful nature shone through in the question. Neither D'Argo nor Aeryn would answer, and their silence was telling enough. After a few minutes, when it had seemed neither of them would speak, Aeryn hesitantly raised her shirt, pulling it over her head, covering only her breasts, leaving her back and stomach exposed.
"Dear goddess…" Zhaan covered her gaping mouth. Crisscrossing Aeryn's back were vicious red welts and several small pink blemishes. On her stomach, scabs from healing cuts were just beginning to scar. A tear of horror and empathy from Chiana only caused Aeryn to shrug once more and pull her shirt back on. She cast a sideways glance at D'Argo, who had turned away when she had shown the others. D'Argo did not volunteer to show his own injuries, nor did anyone press him to do so.
"No, Zhaan, he was not pretending." Aeryn's flat, monotonous voice soured the already dour mood. Chiana curled up into a tighter ball, her arms wrapped around her knees, which were shaking despite the incredible hold she had on them. Rygel did his best to hide his own horror at the Peacekeeper's injuries, but seeing Aeryn like that and being in a small cage once more brought back the terror of his own torture at Durka's hands. He had never cared for this Sebacean, not, barely, even as a friend. But he knew, only too well, that no being deserved that kind of treatment.
"What are we going to do now?" Chiana whimpered. Aeryn remained silent; D'Argo growled.
"We may not live long enough to leave this place, but neither shall he." That hushed the group further.
They all knew who 'he' was.
Scorpius watched the troopers haul away the latest victim of his pride and joy, the Aurora Chair. Soon, soon, he promised himself, soon I will have each one of them in there. After his success with the human, he was most eagerly awaiting the opportunity to continue his research.
High Command had not been pleased when he had informed them that the human would not only survive, but that Scorpius had plans to 'mold' him into something even more dangerous…a Peacekeeper. No orders other than to 'tread carefully' were extended by High Command, save for one. Crichton would not be made into just any Peacekeeper. High Command decided the human would be a Peacekeeper Captain. Scorpius disliked this rule, but he made no formal argument against it and continued with his work.
And such stunning results. He smiled as much as his twisted face was able. In less than four weekens, the human had been broken down, been reeducated, and then decimated his former allies, all without any sign of hesitation or mercy. The lieutenant directly under him, as far as Scorpius could tell, had received a promotion for no other reason than being as equally cruel as his captain.
And the human's treatment of the defector, Aeryn Sun, had been worthy of Scorpius himself. Only Scorpius and Officer Sun had any idea of the old Crichton's feelings for the woman, and knowing this proved how flawless Scorpius' plan had been. Captain Crichton had tortured Officer Sun for arns on end with taunts, physical blows, and more, some methods about which not even Scorpius had inquired.
John Crichton no longer existed. The Aurora Chair had taken all that was him and left only the shell and its scant knowledge behind. No emotions, other than what Scorpius had supplied, were left to govern the human.
The process had been so simple, Scorpius still wondered why he had not thought of it sooner. Reverse the flow of memories in the Aurora Chair, only substitute those memories with any he saw fit, and the person within the chair would never know the difference. If Crichton had not, no one would.
"Bring the traitor. Today is her day for questioning." The guards nodded and left to fetch his prisoner. The com opened from the captain's quarters.
"Yes, Captain Crichton?"
"That prisoner is off limits. You will select another." There was no fear in Crichton's voice. He did not stoop so low as to allow this special project to take precedence over his orders.
"I would only wish to try out my theory, Captain. You do recall the process of memory substitution that I outlined for you, correct?"
"You will try it on another prisoner. Officer Sun is to be returned for court martial. Take the Nebari. She has no destination to reach."
"None of these prisoners do, Captain. All are classified as lost, isn't that what you specified to High Command?" Scorpius heard an angry intake of breath.
"You will do as I command, Scorpius, or we will try the memory substitution theory on you." The com link was terminated. Scorpius scowled. Despite his success, he resented having made Crichton so powerful an officer. Perhaps that was his punishment; for forcing the High Command to agree to his experiment, they had placed his test subject over him.
The guards returned with Chiana, presumably after having received separate orders from the captain to do so, to bring the Nebari in place of Aeryn. Chiana fought, pulling away from them, trying to free her arms from their hold. Scorpius' smile returned as the guards brought her closer. He thrilled in making her shiver with terror as he held her chin in his hands, surveying her like the nameless, worthless creature she was.
"Relax, my dear. You will have our good captain to thank for this. I would have taken Officer Sun, but he insisted she be preserved."
"Why? So he can beat her some more? Or worse?" Chiana spat out her questions with disgust, covering her fear well. Scorpius nodded, indicating for the soldiers to place Chiana in the chair, an order that they obeyed before returning to guard the door. Chiana, still maintaining her brave façade, struggled as she cursed Scorpius.
"Where'd you build another one of these, Scorpy? Have a factory where you turn out torture chambers? What's the matter, not interested in sex toys?" Chiana tried to move as suavely as she could manage while she struggled. Perhaps, if she distracted him, he would not do what she feared he would.
"When the genius is willing, and the results are so promising, materials can always be diverted toward rebuilding. The loss of my Gammak base was a set back, for which I have you and your friends to thank." Scorpius walked over to the control panel and started to warm up the controls. Chiana struggled more urgently even as Scorpius mocked her with his cruel smile.
"I must also thank you for the test subjects you have provided me with…namely yourself and the others…eventually. But let us take this one step at a time. We have so many memories to plunder." Chiana watched, her heart palpitating, as Scorpius began to move the control stick.
That was the last sight she had before the fury was unleashed on her mind. Somewhere in her dark world of pain and more pain, Chiana heard him describe all he was doing to her. She filed it away, even as her mind reeled. It might save the others later, and even if she were a hopeless case, at least the others could save themselves.
As the machine whirred to a stop, Scorpius allowing her to rest and suffer the aftershocks so that he could better plunder her mind with the next wave, Chiana felt only sorrow.
So this is what he did to John.
Aeryn walked down the hall with her shoulders squared, refusing to allow the two soldiers to restrain her or to let them abuse her dignity by dragging her. She knew the way by heart now. One more turn, then straight until they reached the last room on this hall. From her current location, Aeryn could picture the 'captain' as he would be when she entered. He was always at his desk, never facing the door until the half-instant before she stepped through it. Not even the soldiers were brave enough to go through with her, not when their captain was in this mood. Aeryn had seen one or two of them shaking worse than she had when they approached his door.
"Officer Sun, how good of you to visit me again," Crichton greeted her as she walked into his chambers. Aeryn was not restrained in any way, no binders, no control of any kind. She had learned the hard way that Crichton did not require restraints or any advantage of any kind to face her, not any more. Whatever had changed him from John to Captain Crichton had given him the knowledge and skill of a trained Peacekeeper elite; she supposed he knew more about combat than even she did.
"Why did you want to see me? What are you doing to Chiana?" Aeryn had seen the Nebari taken shortly before she had been dragged back to this place.
"I have done nothing to the Nebari female. Scorpius requested a guinea pig, and I provided him with one. He was planning on inviting you, actually. Your being here is a way to see he does not violate my order to leave you alone." For a moment, Aeryn's heart surged with hope. He had saved her from something odious indeed. When she remembered that time with the captain was little better, all hope drained away.
"So you can have me for yourself, Captain?" Aeryn threw the full force of her disgust for this Crichton into her pronunciation of his title. For his part, Crichton seemed amused, feigning hurt at the accusation. With all they had done to him, Aeryn could tell no amount of brainwashing could remove Crichton's inborn sarcasm.
"Why, Officer Sun, you wound me. Surely, as one Peacekeeper to another, I can confide in you the knowledge that such attachments are below us." Aeryn shivered inwardly. He was calling himself a Peacekeeper, a Sebacean…he had called himself one of her people, and thought himself to be one of them.
"You are no Peacekeeper, Crichton." The smirk on his face disappeared. He walked around his desk to lean against it while standing next to her. Aeryn expected the blow that never came. Instead of hitting her, Crichton smiled once more.
"Why would I believe the words of a traitor, Officer Sun? Your accusations no more wound me than are they actually true." Aeryn sighed, resigning this point. She had tried before to bring up the truth, but it seemed that this Crichton knew nothing of humans, nothing of the human planet Earth. Thinking himself Sebacean, being called Captain, having the knowledge of all things Peacekeeper had made him invulnerable. A while ago, Aeryn had thought there must have been at least one memory that Scorpius had missed, something she could use to break down the new persona who resided in Crichton's body. But nothing had proven this to be the case.
"Then why am I here?" Crichton's smile grew more sinister.
"Because I would like to make my report to High Command. It seems they would prefer you never to leave this ship. You are officially dead, per my earlier record, but High Command would prefer I keep up appearances on this ship. The orders are to pass on my report to them, and I shall receive your sentence, which I will carry out. Strictly for convenience sake, you know. That and so we may at least maintain the presence of a trial. You know as well as I what the sentence is." Of course she knew; it had hung over her head for a cycle now, ever since she had first heard Crais say "irreversibly contaminated." Aeryn blinked, a new plan forming, something she had not considered before. She prayed Crichton would ask the right question.
It took some time, not to mention many inane, political, superficial questions later to give her the opportunity to spring her new trap on the captain. He stepped right into it, as she had prayed he would. Aeryn knew of Crichton, her Crichton's innate curiosity, and she counted on it. After finishing off the details, Captain Crichton returned to his chair, leaning back, relaxed and triumphant. He stared at her with a strange smile.
"Tell me, Officer Sun, what made you think you could escape justice? Escape us?" Aeryn smiled now. He had done it, hit on the subject with which she could trap him.
"What's a human?"
"It is a being not unlike a Sebacean. In fact, they are almost completely alike. You would not be able to tell by sight or by talking to one that he was a human." Intrigued, Crichton sat up in his chair, leaning his elbows on his desk.
"Tell me more about these humans. Have you had extensive contact with their people?" Aeryn shook her head, paused, and then nodded. "What does that mean?"
"I have only ever met one human, but I knew him very well."
"Tell me. Who was this human?"
"His name was John." Crichton nodded, frowning as he tried to place that name.
"A good name that. Of course," he laughed, "I'm biased. But do continue."
"He was a traveler, a scientist. His people had never contacted alien life before. At first, he was rather…" Aeryn searched for the right word.
"Freaked out?" Aeryn had to hide her pleasure. That was a human expression that only John had ever used. Then it was there, stored away somewhere in that Peacekeeper prison that was Crichton's mind. Maybe he just did not know the difference between this memory and others; perhaps he thought it was a common expression among Peacekeepers. Aeryn fully believed that Scorpius would see that the crew around Crichton knew these phrases well, if only to maintain the illusion. Seeing Crichton eye her suspiciously, Aeryn started again.
"Yes, 'freaked out' is the right phrase. He was scared and excited. When my Prowler was caught in Moya's starburst, I was imprisoned with him. He helped me escape."
"This is why you were labeled contaminated." It was not a question, but Aeryn nodded.
"What happened to this human? Why isn't he in our custody? Was he on the leviathan all this time?" Outrage and panic were all over Crichton's face, something that made Aeryn smile. The thought of having missed capturing a prisoner was this Crichton's worst nightmare. She could hear the thoughts in his head… 'what if High Command finds out?'
"He is alive, and very safe, I assume." Crichton's panic was spoiled by his rage.
"Where is this human!?!" Crichton vaulted over his own desk and grabbed Aeryn by her collar, hoisting her up not only off her chair but off the floor as well. Aeryn kicked out, but he batted her leg away with no more effort than he would have swatted a gnat. "WHERE ARE YOU HIDNG THIS HUMAN!?!" Aeryn let herself go limp, struggling was pointless. There was no way to tell the truth and make him believe her.
"I'll never tell you. You wouldn't believe me anyway." Crichton brought her back to the ground, though his hand still held her shirt in a fist.
"If you don't tell me, I may have to stop being nice. Scorpius has wanted to test on you since your arrival, Officer Sun. Would you rather he ripped those memories from your mind, or would you rather tell me? Maybe we can do both, hmm?" Aeryn shuddered as his hand ran along her arm. She could see the lecherousness lurking in his eyes, the sick desire there making her shivers worse. He released her shirt only to grab a handful of her hair. Yanking her head painfully backward and twisting her other arm behind her back at the same time, Crichton kissed her forcefully. Before he could do much else, Aeryn bit his lip furiously. The bitter, salty taste of blood filled her mouth.
Crichton tried to pull away, but Aeryn bit down harder. To his credit, Crichton never screamed or cried out for help. Instead, he twisted harder on her arm, delighting in the snapping sound that emanated from her shoulder. Aeryn released him as she took in a quick, pained breath.
"Whore," he spat in her face, more blood than spit landing on her cheek, as he shoved her rudely away. Aeryn knocked against her chair and toppled onto her back, but, despite the pain, she smiled. She had caught him off guard, made him worry about the human he had 'missed.' The guards at the door arrived with a barked command, each looking rather nervous when they saw Aeryn's obviously dislocated shoulder and all the blood over her face, not to mention the captain wiping the blood from his mouth.
"Take her to medical, patch her up, and see that Scorpius knows she is no longer off limits. Tell him I must be told when she is in the chair." The two soldiers nodded, muttered their 'yes, sir's and picked Aeryn off the floor. Aeryn was surprised at how they carefully avoided pulling on her bad arm. Such compassion was not meant to be, not in Peacekeeper soldiers.
They're only trying to keep me together long enough for Scorpius to tear me apart. Aeryn tossed a look over her shoulder at Crichton.
Or until he does.
Zhaan looked up when Aeryn entered the cell opposite her own. She took note of the other's bandaged shoulder and still-bloodied mouth. Zhaan shifted Chiana, who had passed out the second the soldiers had thrown her into the cell with Zhaan, and stood to talk to Aeryn. D'Argo had been moved to Aeryn's cell, presumably to keep the number of occupants the same while allowing Zhaan to care for the Nebari.
"Aeryn, are you hurt?" Aeryn's head was dropped, her chin resting on her chest so that Zhaan could not see her face through the cascade of dark locks. After a short while, Zhaan heard Aeryn's laughter. "Aeryn?"
"Yes, Zhaan, I'm injured, nothing that won't heal." Zhaan did not understand why Aeryn kept laughing but waited for the explanation.
"Aeryn?" Aeryn looked up at her comrade, her blood-reddened mouth twisted into a mean and triumphant snarling grin.
"I'm all right, Zhaan. It's just that Captain Crichton doesn't like being told that he failed. He likes being bitten even less." Aeryn's laughter became crazed, and Zhaan, bewildered, could only stare. Aeryn controlled herself after a time, sobering enough to see Chiana, still unconscious, lying on the floor. Her laughter and smile were gone.
"What happened? The chair?" Zhaan nodded and returned to take Chiana's head in her lap once more. She stroked the girl's hair, whispering prayers over her. Aeryn stood, her shoulders rolled back in an angry stance. "Frelling Crichton! He said he spared me from it and sent her in my place!" Aeryn kicked at the bars. D'Argo watched silently, somewhat impressed with her rage. She could almost pass for a Luxan warrior with that temper.
"It doesn't seem you ended the better for it, Aeryn." Aeryn spun to glare at D'Argo.
"That's not true and you know it. I may be broken a bit, but with a few more treatments, Chiana isn't even going to be herself any more. Look at Crichton."
"Look at Crichton what, Officer Sun?" Aeryn whirled back to face the door.
"Scorpius." She spat at him, hitting him right in the eye. Scorpius growled, but did no more than wipe the spittle away. "You know exactly what I mean, you son of a star slug. Whatever you did to John, you'll never be allowed to do to any of us. I won't let you!" Scorpius' smile returned to his shriveled lips.
"And how will you stop me, Officer Sun? Does Crichton show any signs that he is unhappy, or even suspicious? No, he doesn't, and you know that. Your friend over there won't either. She'll come to hate you, hate you all for embarrassing her captain, for disrespecting me."
"Ha, what are you going to do? Turn her into a Peacekeeper too?" D'Argo roared in challenge from behind Aeryn. "You may have manipulated Crichton, but you can no more convince anyone that we are Peacekeepers than you can allow us to live to expose your captain for the fraud he is." Scorpius did not lose his smile.
"Is he a fraud, Luxan? Does he not know everything there is to know about being a Peacekeeper? He is, in essence, better than the rest of them. He has his own species' incredible talent at improvisation and the ability to survive. He is no grunt who will sacrifice his life without thought. He is more of a Peacekeeper than Officer Sun ever was." Aeryn wanted to reach through the bars and snap Scorpius neck.
"He's a human."
"It makes no difference how primitive his genetic stock is. I will see to it that he never taints your precious bloodlines, Officer Sun. That is what she will be used for." Scorpius directed a pointed glare at Chiana. "She has played the role before, so it will be easy, even easier than my work on Crichton, to adapt her to being his server." Aeryn's eyes flickered to glance at Chiana. No, not her, not her. She is too young.
"Don't do that." Scorpius seemed intrigued by this answer.
"Do you presume to order me, Officer Sun?"
"I'm asking you not to."
"And why would I listen to what you say?"
"Take me instead, and leave her out of this." Zhaan stared at Aeryn in horror, D'Argo only muttered a curse that no microbe would ever be able to translate. Scorpius regarded Aeryn's appearance. She knew it would be to her advantage for him to do so. But to convince him, she would have to reveal something, something Scorpius certainly already knew, but the personal nature of it…and the fact it had to do with the real John Crichton…
I have no choice.
"Why would you be any more suited for this purpose? It would most certainly not be allowed by High Command."
"I'm a traitor, remember? I have been judged irreversibly contaminated. What more fitting punishment could you devise?" That irritated Scorpius, mostly because he had not thought of it sooner.
"You would be sterilized, you realize this?"
"It wouldn't matter, not after you're finished."
"Aeryn, no…" Chiana whimpered, having just revived to consciousness. Zhaan hushed her.
"Quiet!" Scorpius ordered, and Chiana huddled into a ball. He returned to staring at Aeryn. "What makes you think Crichton would chose you as his server?" Scorpius was fishing for the answer he knew she had to give. Aeryn acquiesced.
"He cares for me…cared for me." Scorpius nodded.
"You speak the truth. And do you return the favor?" Aeryn refused to give any clue either way. She would never let Scorpius know the truth about her feelings for John. All he could know was her hate for the man who lived now.
"Look at my arm, you piece of dren! Does this look like I care for him? Did you see what I did?" Aeryn scraped some of the dried blood from her face and flicked it at Scorpius. "That's his blood, and you can test it if you don't believe me. He tried to get funny on me, and he paid for it." Scorpius appeared surprised.
"I had thought he had tried this before, Officer Sun. Why would you respond differently now?"
"I've never let him touch me like that ever. How dare you!" Aeryn's rage was not false any longer. The thought of John forcing her against her will made her recoil inside her own mind. He had been cruel, had even suggested it, but he had never dared to try. No amount of training that Scorpius could provide him would have protected him if he had. Aeryn suspected that Crichton's sense of honor, buried though it might be, had prevented him from making any serious attempt. It was a comforting thought, but nothing she relied on.
"It was evident that the captain liked you, Officer Sun. I assumed he would have acted on the opportunity already." Scorpius smiled wider. "As a matter of fact, I had planned on making you his server originally, but he insisted on preserving you. No more, I'm afraid." Aeryn felt a shiver tap her spine, but she never flinched.
"Then why did you do that to Chiana?"
"She was the next most likely candidate, and you were under protection. As I said, no longer." Aeryn nodded.
"Then why are you waiting now? Go ahead. Do it. Turn me into whatever you want. Just don't to Chiana."
"I never deal with the doomed, Officer Sun. And you will be amended soon enough as it is, do not wish it to happen any sooner." Scorpius smiled once more and turned to leave.
"Upi' oiyugh rezneh-hwat!" D'Argo barked in challenge to the retreating mad scientist, who did not stop at the threat.
"Do you think he understood what you were planning to do with his entrails or was he just unimpressed?" Aeryn smiled at her friend. D'Argo did not smile back.
"He understood," the Luxan growled. "Zhaan, how is Chiana?"
"Better, right dear?" Zhaan petted Chiana's hair lightly. Chiana slowly relaxed as Zhaan soothed her.
"I don't know. Frell, how did Crichton survive that thing?" Chiana whispered. No one answered aloud, but all knew the response.
Captain Crichton reversed the feed and watched it again.
"He's a human." Crichton watched Aeryn Sun's defiant reply to Scorpius then reversed the feed again.
"He's a human."
I am a human.
I am a human.
Crichton shut off the feed, but after one microt, he had it back on.
"He's a human." Aeryn Sun not backing down on this one, and then Scorpius not denying it.
The human…I am the human.
"No." Crichton refused to believe it. This was a trick, a test initiated by Scorpius. Frell, he's only been trying to undermine my command since I got here. Captain Crichton stopped his train of thought for a moment.
When did I get here? After a moment, he remembered, his arrival was less than spectacular, routine, nothing more. The prisoners, Aeryn Sun and Ka D'Argo, they had been here when he had arrived. Scorpius had never been specific on the details of their capture. It made little to no sense that the leviathan would have abandoned those two, the only warriors, or left without them, especially given the cozy family atmosphere and trust that appeared to exist between the crewmembers.
Scorpius knew more than he was showing, that Crichton had suspected from the beginning. He forwarded the feed. Aeryn was speaking rather heatedly to Scorpius, so he stopped, reversed the feed to where she had begun to speak. Silently, Crichton watched. So, Scorpius was grooming him a woman? Crichton sensed insult there. He did not need such a low creature's help in anything, let alone mating. Aeryn's offer intrigued him, though.
She offered herself over the Nebari. The two were equally satisfactory, though he would have preferred not to have to choose from prisoners. It made him look desperate, and the looks that several female troopers had been throwing at him suggested he should not feel that way. However, Aeryn was…special. She possessed the fierceness that all Peacekeeper females and males had, but hers was even tougher than that. The troopers were hesitant around her, suggesting they had sensed this too.
And there was something else, more than just interest on his part, and no matter how low such attraction was, Crichton knew he was suffering from it. The prospect of having Aeryn as his server was not unpleasant in the least.
"Lieutenant Wepok?" The new lieutenant, Captain Ghon's replacement, entered and stood ready for the order. "Bring Scorpius to me."
"Sir." Wepok turned and complied. Crichton perched his chin on his steepled fingers. Scorpius entered with Wepok close behind.
"That will be all, Wepok."
"Sir." Scorpius turned to watch Wepok close the doors before he ventured any words.
"Captain Crichton, I suggest next time you do me the honor of contacting me yourself. I find it most disrespectful of you to summon me thusly." Crichton did not respond. "What is it you wished to see me about?" No answer. "You dare to summon me for your amusement!?! I was about to start work on the traitor, which must not be delayed on your whim. My work…"
"Silence!" Scorpius did as ordered, surprised at the menace in the hollered command. "Scorpius, your branch allows you considerable leeway with the military," Crichton began, and Scorpius frowned. Crais had said something similar once, which had been followed by a big 'but' afterwards. "But not with me or my command. And I have made no such foolish actions to allow you such a coup, not such as my predecessor."
"I said silence!" Scorpius cut himself off, again, as ordered. "The tests stop now. You are hereby ordered to stand by at the ready when and if you are needed. There is a problem that requires action, immediate and swift."
"There is another fugitive we have not captured. His name is John and he is a…I cannot remember the species, but he has befriended and aided our prisoners, and is therefore subject to penalty." Scorpius' eyes widened, which Crichton noticed, despite the other man's attempt to hide it.
"How do you know of the human?"
"Human, that's what it was." Crichton suddenly tilted his head, looking at Scorpius with a predator's smile. "And what would you know of the human, Scorpius?" Crichton stood and walked around his desk to stand within a foot of Scorpius, who, to his credit, did not back down. "Have you been concealing information? That could be seen as insubordination, Scorpius."
Scorpius did not answer. He knew his strength was the superior. If he could defeat a Sebacean, a human would be no problem. The difficulty lay, as it always did with this human, in predicting the likely course of action. Crichton could just as easily drop him with a Pantak jab while appearing to reach for a rifle instead. The human was utterly unpredictable, something Scorpius now wished he had taken into greater account before he attempted this experiment.
"It is my belief that the human escaped with the other traitor, Captain Crais." Crichton nodded, knowing it was a lie, but admiring the degree of plausibility of the suggestion.
"Then we must double our efforts to find the missing offspring and its…" Crichton walked around Scorpius and whispered over his shoulder, "cargo."
"Captain, perhaps that is unwise."
"Do you question my judgment, Scorpius?" Crichton was still at his back.
"No, but I would have you think of your reputation. If it were discovered that Crais and this human escaped you, your commendation may not be so…ready."
"Ah, then you are only worried about my own merits? That is unduly considerate of you, Scorpius. Suspiciously so, I'd say." Scorpius turned to face him.
"And what would you be accusing me of?"
"Concealing the enemy, and I think I have a rather good evidence, don't you?"
"No. You are only throwing accusations because you wish me to make some sort of mistake."
"That won't be necessary. Lieutenant Wepok!" Wepok came in and stopped in his usual spot. "Please escort Scorpius to his quarters. And have four troopers seal off his Aurora Chair until I authorize it to be used again. If our esteemed colleague tries to leave his quarters without my permission or order," Crichton smiled at Scorpius, "kill him."
"Those are my orders, Wepok. Unless, you would rather I have you placed with him and find another lieutenant who will obey me without questions!?!" Wepok shook his head violently.
"No, sir." He grabbed Scorpius around the arm roughly, more afraid of what Crichton would do than what the stronger being would. "Sir, please follow me." Scorpius turned to obey. Crichton turned his back on them. Seizing his opportunity, Scorpius shoved the lieutenant to the floor, grabbing his pulse rifle in the process. Crichton did not turn around at the sounds of the scuffle.
"How like you, Scorpius, to shoot someone in the back." It was a challenge, meant only to distract. Scorpius did not rise to the bait, shooting the disarmed Wepok, in the back as Crichton had predicted, before turning the gun back on Crichton.
"I will have to now. I see I was wrong to make you captain, Crichton. A grunt would have sufficed to prove my work valid." Crichton turned his head to the side, still not facing Scorpius.
"Made me captain, eh? And where in the Hezmona do you get off saying that? Were you the one who passed through Officers' Training or was it I?" Scorpius laughed.
"Neither actually. You never went to that program." Crichton nodded once, taking in that information. Scorpius saw it as a sign of the captain's covered surprise. Crichton, on the other hand, was not surprised in the slightest. The video feed had told him enough, and he knew better than to question it. He had thought it a trick at first, but there was no reason for the prisoners to cooperate, no leniency would be offered them, nothing that they would actually expect to be rendered. Scorpius had not known he would be watching, so Scorpius had revealed himself.
I am a human.
"Why haven't they come back for me yet?" Aeryn asked no one in particular.
"Maybe they have to get that frelling captain's approval first. Maybe he'll like D'Argo best and pick him," Rygel jumped back against his cage as the Luxan reached for him. D'Argo could never have reached Rygel, but his rage was real enough to frighten the tiny Hynerian.
"We must assume that John has not been told about this plan. Scorpius could never explain why Chiana or Aeryn was chosen." Zhaan was the wisdom of the group. Chiana, still curled against her, shook her head.
"He knows I was in that chair. He sent me there in Aeryn's place," Chiana did not wish to sound bitter, but she could not help but feel how unfair that was, and her pain was a good arguer. Aeryn's features softened with guilt, making Chiana feel worse. "But we can help John." The mix of distrust and hatred in their glances scared her, but Chiana continued. "Scorpius was telling me how he changed him. There has to be a way to fix him then, right?" No one answered, but Aeryn dropped to a crouch. She was at the Nebari's eye level across the distance between cages.
"Tell me, Chiana, what did Scorpius do to John?" She did not add 'our John,' but Chiana understood.
"He broke through the last of John's memories. Whatever he had managed to hold onto…Scorpius took it. He said something about how he could take them permanently from the mind and then replace them with other beings' memories or total fabri…fabric…" Chiana shuddered, a spasm of pain hitting her. The memories of what had been said were tied closely to her pain.
"Fabricated. By the goddess, they have given him a totally new mind!" Zhaan bowed her head, shaking it as she hushed Chiana, stilling her shivers. Aeryn looked away long enough to blink back tears. Ever since Crichton had not been Crichton…ever since John had become the Captain, she had thought him as weak minded, easily captured by Scorpius because he was weak. She had been wrong. Sometime between then and now, she realized she had known this all along. The only way to make Crichton weak was to take the Crichton out of him. And Scorpius had found a way.
"We have to escape and…"
"And what, Zhaan? Capture the whole ship ourselves?" D'Argo grunted, and all eyes turned to him.
"No, we need only capture Crichton and Scorpius. The rest of the crew won't shoot if their lives are endangered." Aeryn shook her head.
"If John is really…gone, he'll order they shoot him and Scorpius. Peacekeepers don't make good hostages."
"Then we must use stealth. If one of us escaped, or we all did, and somehow caught Crichton and Scorpius and forced them to reverse the process, Crichton could continue to pretend…" Zhaan stopped when she noticed Aeryn had not stopped shaking her head.
"No, that will not work. Scorpius is too proud of his creation. He'd sooner kill John than help us bring him back." Aeryn shuddered as she thought of the only way, the only conceivable path to take. "I have to go to him."
"What?" Chiana sat up straighter. "You can't do that. You don't know what he's capable of, Aeryn."
"I know exactly what he's capable of, see?" She pointed to her arm and then her head. "I know more about being a Peacekeeper than he does. He's only been told how to play the part. I lived it. If I promise to reveal the location of the human, he may be more lenient with me in return."
"The human? Aeryn, he does not know that he is…" Aeryn waved Zhaan to silence.
"I told him we knew a crewmember, a human, named John. He was furious. He thinks he missed capturing another one of us."
"What the yotz does that have to do with anything? He doesn't know he's the frelling human!" Rygel cried from his cage.
"Yes, but if he thinks there is another, I can persuade him to spare us any torture until I provide him with the location. I can say he escaped with Crais."
"But how will you find Talyn? Moya and Pilot…" Chiana buried her face against Zhaan's side, the priestess hushing her and attempting to still her sobs. Aeryn's heart sank. She had feared as much, but to hear it was something else.
"Talyn trusts Aeryn. If Crichton had her voice broadcasted, he might respond and flock this way." D'Argo chimed in. Aeryn nodded.
"But Crais took him through starburst. They're galaxies away by now." Rygel belittled their plan from his perch.
"We don't know that for sure. Talyn may not have been able to starburst that far. Not yet anyway. And Crichton will have to ability to order ships all around the outer rim of the Uncharted Territories to search and send the signal." Aeryn looked to them all for support. Zhaan nodded, as did Chiana. D'Argo grunted his approval, and Rygel sighed, waving them off.
"What will you tell High Command, Scorpius, when they see that you shot me in the back?"
"I won't have shot you there. Turn around and face death bravely, Crichton."
"Is that my name, or did you make that up too?" Scorpius did not answer.
"You know." Crichton did not answer, hitting one of the buttons on his desk instead. The video came up right where Aeryn spoke.
"He's a human." Scorpius watched with some degree of chagrin, but surprisingly, pride as well.
"I see I did indeed train the best Peacekeeper ever. You are most cautious, mistrusting, and intelligent. Indeed, a compliment to your entire wayward race, Crichton." Crichton's shoulders twitched, but he did not signal that he even cared in any other way. "Don't you wish to say something? Or would you rather know why I did what I did, Crichton?"
"I don't object to hearing."
"You did not conceal the information I required…on your 'wormhole' technology. When the opportunity to make better use of you, rather than just killing you, arrived, I took it. Thanks to you, who knows how many contaminated Peacekeepers can be returned to duty with no ill effects. It will save millions of lives, something that the Peacekeeper High Command sees as necessary. Enough soldiers die in battle, so why not save those who can be saved?"
"For the good of the whole, eh Scorpius? I understand that better than you know."
"Thanks to me, you mean." Crichton nodded.
"So, if I am not Captain John Crichton, who am I?"
"You are Crichton. You may yet be Captain Crichton again, if you agree to allow me to amend your memories."
"Interesting proposal, to which I accept." Crichton finally turned to face Scorpius. "On one condition."
"You will show me the procedure on one of the prisoners first." Scorpius' smile grew. This man was no threat. He could be returned, time and again, to his original state, covering up the discoveries each time they were unearthed.
"Agreed, Captain Crichton. This way then," Scorpius waved the rifle toward the door. Crichton shook his head.
"No weapons. If I am to reassume control when you are finished, I would not want my authority compromised because my men have seen you ordering me around. No weapons." Scorpius was hesitant, but he tossed away the rifle. Crichton moved toward the door.
"Sir, I'm sorry to disturb you, but this prisoner insisted on seeing you," the grunt pulled Aeryn forward by her arm. In this instance, the trooper feared Crichton more than Aeryn, otherwise he would not have handled her so roughly. To her surprise, both Crichton and Scorpius seemed pleased to see her.
"And we were just on our way to collect you, my dear," Scorpius oozed evil delight as he reached to stroke a lock of Aeryn's hair. His movement was met with a blurred hand, moving too fast and too close to Aeryn's eyes for her to see it. After she blinked, she saw Scorpius rubbing his hand and casting an enraged look at Crichton.
"Don't touch her. This way then, if you would, Officer Sun. Step into Scorpius' office." Aeryn shook her head.
"I've come to offer a deal, not to let you rape my mind." Her defiance earned her a scowl from Scorpius and a smile from Crichton.
"You will treat me with respect or it will not only be your mind that is violated." The threat was tangible, but Aeryn did not fear.
"If you do, you will never have the leviathan's offspring, Crais, or the human." Aeryn saw Scorpius react to the last word, but her eyes were focused on Crichton.
"And how would you propose to capture the three fugitives?"
"The ship, Talyn, trusts me. If he could hear my voice, I'm certain he would comply with any instructions I give him He would return, with Crais and John, no matter what they did to try and stop it."
"You are sure?"
"Positive." Crichton smiled.
"Tell me, Officer Sun, why would you do this?"
"To protect my friends."
"And Crais? The human?"
"Crais ruined my life. The human has abandoned us here. There is no love for him among my crew." Crichton nodded.
"It's too late, Officer Sun," Scorpius taunted from her side. "You are going to be my test subject. There is nothing to delay that now." Crichton put a hand on Scorpius' shoulder.
"Not so fast, if you don't mind. There is no reason not to take her offer. If it does not capture the human, at least we will have the ship and Crais." Aeryn's interest piqued at Crichton's pronunciation of 'human.' Something had happened. Did he know? Crichton gave no other sign that he cared one way or the other when he spoke again. "Very well, Officer Sun, we will record your message and see that it is delivered throughout the Uncharted Territories. This way," Crichton gestured for her to follow him back to his quarters.
"Crichton, we had a deal." The trooper who had hauled Aeryn smacked Scorpius with the butt of his weapon.
"You will address the captain properly." Crichton smiled at the grunt.
"What is your name, soldier?"
"Ferag, Captain, sir."
"Very well, Lieutenant Ferag. Well done. I left orders with Lieutenant Wepok to have Scorpius escorted and held in his quarters until I was ready to receive him again. Wepok was insubordinate. You will be his replacement. Take care of your charge. If he is wrongfully mistreated, you will bear the brunt of the punishment. If he attempts to disobey my orders, you are authorized to use deadly force."
"Yes, sir, thank you, Captain, sir."
"Dismissed." Scorpius glared at Crichton with new venom in his eyes.
"Captain, you have sealed your fate. When High Command hears about this mistreatment…"
"High Command has already heard, Scorpius." The other man stared at Crichton. "I informed them that you were the one who allowed the human and Crais to escape. Their orders were to have to sequestered until such time as more evidence appears." Crichton smiled at Aeryn. "And as Officer Sun has volunteered to lead us to them, I believe we will know soon enough."
Scorpius cursed so profusely that none of the other four beings' microbes could translate. Lieutenant Ferag belted him once more with his weapon, Crichton approving the action with a nod.
"He must be alive to stand trial, Lieutenant Ferag. See to that."
"Yes, sir." Crichton looked at Aeryn once more. For the first time since John had become captain, Aeryn thought she saw his familiar, characteristic smirk. The smile, despite the coldness of the mind behind it, warmed her, sending a chill throughout her body.
"This way, Officer Sun."
Chiana listened to the exchange, as did the others. Crichton was calling the shots on his own now. That boded well for them, for the plan. If Talyn could be called back, they would have a means to escape. If not…well, at least Scorpius was out of the picture for now.
"Lieutenant Ferag?" Chiana called out. "Lieutenant!" Chiana cried louder. Zhaan stared at her, uncomprehending. D'Argo hissed, Rygel huffed and ignored her. To their surprise, the Lieutenant turned to enter their area, Scorpius still with him.
"What do you want, prisoner?" Ferag's voice was rough, but Chiana did her best to approach him steadily, swinging her lithe hips, letting him appreciate her body and its gifts.
"I wanted to ask you a favor, sir." The Peacekeeper laughed.
"And risk my promotion and my neck? Forget it!"
"Wait, please," Chiana purred, her sensuality coming on thick enough to stop Ferag yet again. Scorpius eyed her suspiciously. "I am Scorpius' woman. May I be with him while he is detained? I'm sorry for eavesdropping, but I was concerned." Scorpius stared at her in confusion, Ferag with utter shock.
"Yes, many times while I have been here. My mind cannot be…read by the Aurora Chair, so I serviced him in other ways." Ferag swallowed against the rising panic at the nearness of this definitely female being. Scorpius saw the advantage.
"Yes, allow the girl to come with me, Lieutenant, she can do no harm. I promise to obey the Captain's orders, but her company would make the duration much more bearable." Ferag sighed.
"If Captain Crichton found out…"
"He won't, no one will tell. I will reward you well, Lieutenant," Chiana cooed. That won over Ferag's hesitation. He fished for the key card to open her cell. Chiana waited for the door to open before sauntering out, swinging her hips. Ferag proved to be too weak to overcome this charm. While he reached toward Chiana to steal a kiss, which she was about to allow, Scorpius grabbed the rifle away and shot. Ferag fell without a sound, save for the thud of his body hitting the ground. The weapon was pointed at Chiana next.
"Why would you help me?" All the false sensuality fell from Chiana's face to be replaced by hard steel as she confronted her torturer.
"Because, we wish to leave this place, and with the way things are going, that won't happen with Crichton in charge. I see you have fallen under his boot as well." Scorpius grimaced and dropped the weapon to his side. Chiana bent down to pluck the key card from the stiffening Ferag. She released D'Argo and Rygel. Zhaan walked out of the cell behind Chiana.
"A compromise then, Scorpius." Chiana held the command now, and not even Rygel, in all his arrogance, would interrupt. "You will report to High Command that Crichton released us, then you can take control. He will be eliminated, and you will survive."
"With my work discredited!"
"A small price to pay for your life. And you can try again and you know it." Scorpius was silent.
"I accept these terms."
"Good, if you did not," Chiana smiled as D'Argo lifted the smaller man up by his neck. "I believe you understand." Scorpius could and did not answer. Chiana smiled. This plan was a ruse, but it would buy them the time they needed.
"There, finished." Crichton nodded and sent the recording through to the awaiting fleet.
"If this ship will follow your voice as you say, then one of these ships will report in when it is discovered."
"Can you arrange it so that Talyn comes here? He may be frightened if I'm not there to meet him." Crichton nodded.
"Already done." Aeryn bit her lower lip, stifling her shock. That was something John would do, only he could do…he had anticipated her plan. Did that mean he knew they intended…
"You know, don't you?" Crichton did not look at her. Instead, he tapped a button on his desk. Aeryn whirled to watch the feed while Crichton moved to where he could better see the space around his ship.
"He's a human." Aeryn recognized herself and Scorpius. Then he did know.
"John?" Crichton laughed, a sound that was so close to his normal laugh that Aeryn found herself shivering with the eerie feeling of déjà vu.
"He's dead, Officer Sun." Aeryn heard pain in that voice for the first time since he had been Captain Crichton. She waited for him to continue. Instead of denial or acceptance, he asked questions. "So, I liked you?" Aeryn did not understand until he forwarded the feed through remote. She heard herself admit as much.
"He…you never said as such, but it was everyday implied." Crichton nodded.
"I don't remember anything." Aeryn sensed this to be a lie, but she did not want to upset Crichton by trying to contradict him. He was obviously not entirely on her side…yet.
"Scorpius used you as his first test subject, as he will use all of us if you do not let us go," she started to plead, but he brought her up short with a wave of his hand.
"It is already too late for you to bother asking me for any favors, Aeryn…Sun." Aeryn sat up straighter on her chair.
"What did you say?"
"It's too late…"
"No, no not that. What did you call me?" Crichton was silent. Aeryn crawled out of her chair and walked over to him. Crichton's eyes were fixed on the stars that reflected in his empty gaze. Aeryn placed a hand on his shoulder, drawing him back from his reverie. "What did you call me?"
"Aeryn Sun. It is your name." Aeryn shook her head.
"You called me Aeryn first. You only added the Sun at the end. John?" Crichton shook her hand from his shoulder.
"I told you, he's dead. If you don't like my company, you don't have to be here. I'm sure your cell would be more convenient." Aeryn stepped back as though bitten. She had not meant to anger him. Still desperate to reach him, she extended a cautious hand to his cheek, pulling him and forcing him to look at her.
"Who am I?" He stared at her, his blue eyes searching back and forth across her face for the answer. "Who am I?" Crichton tried to pull away from her hand, but she closed it tighter on his jaw. "Who am I?"
"Aeryn S…" she placed her other hand over his mouth to keep him from saying the rest. She removed it and waited. "Aeryn." Smiling, she nodded.
"You are John Crichton under there somewhere. I know it." His mood soured again.
"No, you are mistaken. I have memories of you and your friends, but I am not in or of them. According to what Scorpius had outlined, the process left me only with the memories that did not threaten exposure of my old identity. The rest are gone, destroyed or missing, I don't care."
"Liar." Crichton's temper flared.
"What? You ask me for help then insult me? This is not a wise thing, Officer Sun." He backed away from her and walked over to his desk, collapsing in the chair. Aeryn swallowed hurt, excusing him because she knew his confusion. She had been there once. The choice of freedom, something she had been taught to hate, had mostly been decided for her. John was in that position now. He could abandon the comfort and order his Peacekeeper memories gave him, or he could break out.
"You can be more, John." That brought his attention back to her. Aeryn walked slowly back toward the desk. "You told me that once, and it kept me sane while I rebuilt everything in my life. You have no other choice. Scorpius will see that you are destroyed because he cannot control you." Crichton chuckled once, a sad laugh at best. "What?"
"We were on our way to test on you, Aeryn Sun. If it worked on you, he was going to repeat the process on me."
"You would let him do that?"
"Would you have?" Aeryn bit her tongue to keep from saying 'yes.' She would have; if Crais had offered this method to remove the contamination, she would have accepted it and then never regretted it because she would not remember. Seeing her pensiveness, Crichton spoke again.
"Tell me something…Aeryn."
"Tell me about who I was. Maybe that will help me decide which death to choose." That had decided her mind. Despite the bitterness, the anger, the pain she had suffered at this man's hands, Aeryn could not leave him to a traitor's death. Crichton was there, he was, and she had seen him peering out from behind captain's laurels. Could she destroy any chance of retrieving the real John Crichton because of injuries the false Crichton had inflicted.
"You don't have to die, John."
"There is no other way, Aeryn. Either Scorpius will kill me for overstepping his experiment's perimeter or High Command will decided I'm too risky to keep alive." Aeryn shook her head.
"You could come with us." Crichton appeared genuinely surprised at this offer.
"Why would you say that?"
"Because I don't want you to die." Crichton stared at her.
"You're lying. You've wanted to kill me since you've been here."
"Yes, but there is a chance now for you to make all of that up to me…to us." Aeryn waited for him to speak. An uncomfortable silence developed between them while Aeryn waited and Crichton thought to himself.
"Why would you help me? After all I did to you? You are joking, and I don't enjoy this form of amusement." He shut himself back inside his stern walls.
"I'm not joking."
"Because you gave me that chance."
"I don't believe the circumstances are the same in this case."
"They are, John. You saved my life, now I can save yours." For a moment, Aeryn thought she saw a flicker of hope in his eyes.
"Talyn. He will come, I know he will. He would never have left if I had ordered him to stay. I was too panicked when Crais took him to think of it."
"And if he doesn't?"
"Then you will not die alone."
"This way leads to Crichton's chambers. He has most certainly called out with Aeryn's plea to your ship," Scorpius muttered. Chiana nodded, following demurely behind him like the prisoner she should have been. Apparently, only Ferag had been informed of Scorpius' intended imprisonment because no other soldier stopped them.
"The others will wait in their cells until I let them know Talyn is here." Scorpius made no sign of recognition. They had reached Crichton's quarters. Through the glass, Chiana saw him talking to Aeryn, eyes closed, arms folded in his lap. She was not his prisoner, no more than she was Scorpius' any longer. Chiana buried that hatred and reminded herself not to let on that Scorpius would not survive to be reprimanded. The pain of her torture, the scars on Aeryn's back, the missing mind and soul that was John Crichton, all had decided this odious man's fate.
"Follow," Scorpius ordered as he waved the guards away from the door. They disappeared, only too grateful. Chiana's heart burned in her chest when she saw how much they feared Crichton. He was tough, to be sure, but he was not meant to instill fear. John Crichton brought light and happiness, humor and wit, not terror and fear.
"Captain Crichton, it is time we talked." Scorpius entered the room with Chiana on his heels. Aeryn stared at them both, her eyes resting on the weapon in Scorpius' hands.
"Talk? I believe I know why you're here, Scorpius." Crichton smiled coldly and flung his arms wide. "Take your best shot. You've earned it. I'm already dead, so what does it matter?" Scorpius stared, somewhat surprised by this change of mood. Gone was the murderous, superior captain, and in his place, a bitter, defeated man. Chiana saw the sudden panic in Aeryn's eyes. Fortunately, Scorpius did not shoot.
"No, Crichton, you will not be destroyed. I have succeeded, you see. All this, all you know about yourself is coincidence. And once your friends are gone, you will return to my Aurora Chair and never remember them or anything but duty. This time, however, you will be given a natural attitude of deference to me, for safety's sake, of course."
"John, you can't…" Aeryn wanted to jump across the desk and shake him. She had thought he had agreed not to let Scorpius use him again.
"Quiet, Aeryn," Crichton snapped. Scorpius approached, the rifle still trained on his chest. A flicker of recognition flew across Crichton's features in a snarl. "Gilina." Aeryn stared at him, her mouth falling open. Scorpius halted his forward motion.
"You remember her?" Crichton nodded and then shook his head.
"I remember that you shot her, as you will me. You know you cannot restrain me. Your machine, your process does not work. You destroyed whatever soul was in this body before I was, but not completely. It doesn't work if you can't purge it of all the impurities, does it?"
"I suppose not, but I can always try again. Perhaps on a Sebacean this time. It may only be your human descent, Crichton."
"And you can't let them know it doesn't work," Crichton egged him on. Aeryn stared in shock. Crichton was asking Scorpius to shoot him. Aeryn started to move from her seat, but Scorpius coaxed her back down with the muzzle of his weapon. "She's not the threat, Scorpius. Shoot her, and I'll scream all the defects of that chair until not even God can shut me out, much less High Command." The weapon was retrained on Crichton's chest.
"No!" Aeryn cried, desperate. They had him, they could have Crichton back again, why was he doing this?
"I'm afraid the good captain is quite correct, Officer Sun. He is the threat," Scorpius' finger tightened on the trigger.
Uttering a blood-curdling scream, Chiana lashed out with a kick she had seen Aeryn use quite effectively before, striking Scorpius in the small of his back. Scorpius' upper body tilted backwards, the muzzle of the gun reached toward the ceiling, one shot escaping the weapon before Aeryn jumped to secure it. Scorpius was on the ground at the wrong end of his old weapon in another microt.
"See, John?" He did not answer. Aeryn turned to see him slumped against his chair, his chest moving slowly in and out, but his eyes wide with surprise and pain. Tossing the weapon to Chiana, Aeryn ran to Crichton's side. The blast had caught him in the chest, toward the right and outside, a lung wound for sure. He could survive, provided he received attention and soon.
"He'll die without my help, Officer Sun. Persuade this one to give me the weapon, and I promise, I will summon medical attention," Scorpius called from the floor.
"Forget it," Chiana growled and kicked him once more. "I've been though hell, and you would just as soon send me back as help him. I don't believe you or your lies." Chiana held the gun closer.
"Chiana, you can't kill him, we may need him." Chiana shook her head.
"Chiana…" the husky, pained whisper from Crichton sucker punched her confidence. "Don't kill him…"
"Chiana, listen to John, he needs the help…"
"No…too late…just…can't kill him…not…right…" Crichton's voice was gurgled with blood, which Aeryn wiped away with her hand. She held his face in her other hand, bringing his face towards hers.
"I told you John was in there somewhere." He smiled weakly then passed out. Aeryn moved quickly to shift him to the floor so that he would not stress his lungs, but elevated enough so that he would not drown in his own blood either.
"He will die, Chiana, unless you let me help you." A squawk came over the com in Crichton's quarters.
"Sir, an unidentified ship is approaching. Its markings match those of the ship we were told to expect. Shall we let it dock?" Chiana shoved the muzzle of the rifle against Scorpius' forehead.
"Tell them yes, or you will never get a chance to even see that frelling chair of yours again," she hissed.
"This is Scorpius. Allow the ship to dock and expect and the captain and I to inspect it. Any life forms?"
"There are signs of Sebacean DNA on our scanners, but the heat sensor indicates that it is dead." Chiana smirked. So, starburst had killed Crais. That was apropos. "Deck two, gate four, sir."
"We will be there." Scorpius snarled at Chiana. "You cannot kill me now. You will never be allowed to board without me. Chiana waved at Crichton.
"He'll get us on fine."
"Unconscious, wounded, and dying?"
"He has a better chance at living than you do, slime." Chiana stood. Aeryn nodded to her. "You've outlived your usefulness, I'm afraid."
"You'll never succeed without me."
"I'll take my chances," Chiana smiled. What was it John said the good guy always say before killing the bad guy?
"See you in hell, creep." Chiana turned to Aeryn when she was finished. "Grab him and let's get the others."
Officer Dravix saw the party approaching the docking gate unalarmed. The prisoners were following behind a Peacekeeper female holding her rifle with all due pride and seriousness. It was not until he saw the body in the Luxan's arms that he began to panic.
"Hold it right there! Identify yourselves!" Dravix had the weapon trained on the Luxan, which proved to be a mistake. Aeryn shot him through the neck, dropping him like a rock to the deck. Chiana skirted ahead and picked him clean of all identifiers, weapons, and key cards and codes. Rygel caught up to her in his newly retrieved throne sled.
"I get twenty percent of whatever you find in there," he ordered. Chiana spun and shoved her new rifle in his face. "All right, ten percent." She growled and he proceeded into Talyn without further words. Chiana waited for the others to approach. Aeryn looked tired, even her stolen Peacekeeper uniform looked worn out. Zhaan was fluttering next to D'Argo, matching his large strides by running, as she maintained surface contact with Crichton.
To Chiana, this was the most beautiful sight she had ever seen. Despite the abuse that both Aeryn and D'Argo had received under Captain Crichton's command, they were taking care of him now. D'Argo held Crichton like a child, and Aeryn was constantly throwing sideways glances to be sure the human was still all right.
As Aeryn passed into Talyn, the ship beeped and its lights flickered, welcoming her back. Aeryn and Chiana immediately checked all stations to be sure no damage had been done to Talyn since Crais had taken him. Apparently, according to the readouts, Talyn was quite capable of starburst, but life forms within did so at their peril.
While the two women fretted over command, D'Argo and Zhaan ferreted Crichton to the small medical facility. One command from Aeryn, and Talyn supplied them with all the tools and fluids and even instructions they would need. Aeryn left him in their care as she and Chiana plotted their course, each trying to determine whether or not starburst was now a possibility.
As far as Aeryn could tell, Talyn could safely go through starburst, now that he was larger and older, as could they, within an arn, after he had fully recharged from the starburst that had brought him to their location. They had one arn.
Crichton opened his eyes to the dim lights of a tiny room. There was no way to tell where he was exactly, but there was a smell he recognized. It was a being's scent, a scent he found he liked. Not seeing so much as trusting his nose, Crichton whispered,
"Shh, John. I'm right here. Zhaan says you should stay quiet. No talking for at least another forty arns." Aeryn stood in the dark and walked closer to his side. "You were lucky. Talyn agreed to help Zhaan save your life. Moya would be proud of him. So would Pilot." Aeryn felt the prick of tears at her eyes. She missed them both. Moya had been her home, Pilot, the only one besides John that she had enjoyed talking to and trusted.
"Tell me about them. I think I know them, but I can't remember them," Crichton wheezed. Aeryn smiled and obliged.
"Pilot and Moya were connected to one another, and they took great care of each other. They took care of us, too, John, often." Aeryn continued to tell him all about every little problem they had ever had on Moya, every time she had talked to Pilot, what she had heard from Chiana and the others about their deaths. Seeing the guilt, even in darkness, when she talked about Moya and Pilot's deaths, Aeryn stopped speaking. Through the dark, John was staring at her with those intense blue eyes. His ability to capture her attention had not been stripped from him.
"Did I care for you, Aeryn? Tell me the truth." Aeryn sucked in a breath.
"Yes, I thought so. You shouldn't be talking. Zhaan will have my…"
"Did you care for me?" She did not break his gaze.
"Yes." A smile crawled across his pale, cracked lips.
"That I remember." Aeryn smiled, her grin every bit as tired as his. Slowly, she leaned closer to him.
"What else do you remember, John?"
He did not speak, but moved only to kiss her gently. Aeryn pushed her lips against his, wetting his dry lips with her tongue. She could feel him smile as she kissed him, just as surely she could feel his tears falling across both their cheeks. After a moment that seemed criminally short, Aeryn pulled away.
"I knew you were there, somewhere."
"That's only part of me, Aeryn. I don't know what happened to the rest." Aeryn eased closer again, taking his hand in hers, running her thumb over his skin.
"It's enough. And out here, I'll return the favor."
"What?" She drew closer to him, kissed him softly once more, and whispered,
"I can teach you to be more, John Crichton."
"I think I'd like that."