John Crichton sat in his ship's command, reading a comic book he had picked up on the marketplace planet they had just visited. It was in a language no one in the crew recognized, but its illustrations resembled Japanese anime, and the story seemed to involve a species which looked like giant strawberries. He was engrossed in what he suspected was a tragic love scene possibly involving a wizard, when his ship-mate Chiana burst in.
"Something's wrong with Aeryn," she reported.
John looked up. "What?"
"I went in to the dining area to get some sakka juice. She yelled at me."
John sighed and folded his book in his lap. "Chiana, Aeryn yells at you a lot."
"Yeah, but this was for no reason. I didn't even say anything. I just went, and she started yelling at me about how my quarters were sloppy, and I was making extra work for the drds, and…"
"They ARE sloppy, Chiana."
"But Aeryn just yelled, and…well, she's been nice. Lately. Well, for awhile, anyway. She only really yells now when you've frelled up really big, or…"
"Or when she isn't feeling great," John finished with a sigh. He put the book aside and reached for his boots. "Damn. Tell me honestly, Pip, did this really sound more like the 'I'm hurting and I'm pissed and I need to let it out somehow, but I lack the proper social skills and comfort level with my feelings to express it properly, so I'll just pick on the first person to get in my way' kind of yelling? Not the 'Chiana did something wrong' kind?"
"No," said Chiana. "The first kind. She must be feeling like dren, she yelled pretty loud."
"I'll talk to her," John said. "Pilot, where is Aeryn?"
"Still in the dining area," came Pilot's voice over the comm. "Where she is currently abusing Zaahn…"
"Frell. Frellity frell." He took off running, and nearly crashed into Zaahn en route. The Delvian looked concerned, but not angry.
"I asked her if she wanted tea," Zaahn said, sounding a little stunned. "She was sitting at the table, with an empty mug, and she honestly looked like she lacked the strength to go and fill it herself. So I said good morning and offered to make her some tea."
"She is in real pain, John. Perhaps you can reach her. In the meantime, should you or Aeryn want me, I will be in the apothecary preparing a sleeping agent and a pain-reducing treatment for her head. She'll be wanting them when she is finished venting."
"Thank you, Zaahn," he muttered under his breath to the already departing figure. Then he braced himself, and headed into the dining area.
Aeryn, his ship-mate, his friend, his almost-human most fascinating creature on the ship, was slumped at one of the tables. Her mug remained empty, but she had one hand clamped around the handle. It was turning red from the tension of her grip.
"Hey," he said.
She looked up at him sharply, every muscle on her face pinched taut with…something. He leaned closer. "Aeryn?"
"I mean it, Crichton. I am in no mood to…"
"Sure you are."
That almost snapped her out of it. "What?"
"Sure you're in the mood. You're feeling terrible and your stupid warrior ego won't let you admit that, so the only way you have to let it out right now is to yell at me. So go on. I don't mind."
Her eyes sparkled a little. She possibly had a fever. "You're mad."
"Not in the slightest. Look, if it'll help? I'll be happy for it. Go for it. Come on, tell me how annoying I am."
"Tell me how much you hate my confusing human ways. Tell me how happy you'll be if I leave this ship at the next spaceport, never to return."
"That's not true!"
"Well, come on, then. You must be mad at me about something."
"You were mad at Chiana. You were mad at Zaahn."
Slowly, she shook her head. "No. No, I wasn't."
He sat there, waiting for the shoe to finally drop. At last, she let her stiff posture slip a little and her body creep toward his. He angled himself carefully so he could prop her up without being too obvious.
"Zaahn is preparing a pain-reducing treatment," he said after a moment.
Against his shoulder, her face crumpled into a tiny wince, but she said nothing.
"Maybe a bit of a sleeping agent too…"
Like a cat, she sprung back. "No! No drugs!"
Bingo, he thought. "No drugs? Or no sleeping agent?"
She looked absolutely devastated by his perceptiveness. She drew back a little more, not a catlike spring, but a wary slink, like the mouse that inevitably came with a cat and tried to escape it. "I don't want a frelling sleeping agent," she repeated. There was a pout-like whine to her tone. "I don't want it, John."
"Okay," he casually shrugged. "There are other ways to get you to sleep, I suppose…"
There was panic now, almost enough for her to forget her defenses. He moved in for the kill. "There's cryogenic suspension. Delvian unity trance. That thing D'Argo does with his tongue…"
"Frell you! Stop talking! Stop talking now!"
"On the other hand," he continued, reaching for her hand and aiming for a gentle squeeze, "you can sleep now, with the sleeping agent, and it just might clear up that headache which has you in such a bad mood. You stay awake, and all you do is suffer with it longer until you inevitably collapse from exhaustion, at which point you sleep anyway…"
Her jaw was steel, and she looked like she was waging a formidable battle in her head. He hoped the 'realize it will cost me less than I think it will to talk about this sensibly and take the damn drugs' side would win.
"What happens when you sleep, Aeryn?" he asked her gently.
She flopped her head down onto the table, cradling it gingerly in her hands, dodging his worried gaze. "I see things. I hear noises. Pictures."
"Dreams, you mean? Bad ones?"
She practically snarled. "I never had such things until I met you!"
"Because you were limited by your programming, Commander Data. But you went out and got yourself an emotion chip, and now…"
"I don't understand."
"Sure you do. Okay, maybe not the Commander Data part, even though it's actually a really appropriate reference, but this, now, it's…"
"Now? Now I can hurt! Now, I can fear! Tell me how this is better for me."
"Because there's a flip side. You can adapt, Aeryn. You can love."
"Frell love. I haven't slept in a week and my head is killing me."
"There. Was that so hard to say?"
She let her head sink lower, into the plush cushion of her leather-clad arms. "Why will you not leave me in peace already? I am in no mood for sparring, verbal or otherwise."
"Another thing you would never have said in the old days. See how much growing you've done?"
She looked up again, and in spite of her obvious suffering, he could not suppress a chuckle. "I know, I know. Frell growing?"
Her arms starfished limply out on the table. She was too weakened by her misery to even respond.
Time to wrap this up, thought John. He wondered briefly if there was any hope of getting his fabulous, fearless warrior to tell him what her scary dreams were about. There was so little that could fell someone like her. Until you broke her out of her sterile little mold, of course. There was a part of her---a brave, adventurous part---that loved the new challenges, loved having stimulus fresher than yet another prowler, or prisoner transport, or mindless border patrol. But there was another part of her so unused to dealing with any stimulus that interesting or that unpredictable or that overwhelming. She'd get there, but in the meanwhile she would have these little freakouts and utterly lack the capacity to recognize them for what they were. He suspected he would not even have to explain today's events to Zhaan and Chi and the others. He wondered if she realized how significant that was.
Aeryn took a shaky breath, tried to shift her position a little and could not suppress a tiny whimper. "I'm tired. My head hurts."
"Uh huh. So where did you want to sleep it off, Ms. Sun? Your room? My room? Pilot's room?"
She looked up sharply. "Pilot? Why there?"
"He'll keep an eye on you. I would too, you know. But Pilot, he'll keep an eye on you. You'll feel safe with him."
She didn't answer. He took that as assent and touched his comm. "Zaahn? Bring the stuff for Aeryn to Pilot's, will you? We'll meet you there."
He helped her to her feet, trying not to look like he was supporting her as much as he was while she limped down the corridor beside him. Two drds brought up the rear, a pillow and a blanket snapped maternally within their tiny metal claws.