Silence of the Mind.
By Jess Pallas.
Disclaimer; I don't own Farscape or any of its characters. Please don't sue me!
Feedback; Go on then! E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Archiving; If you like it, take it. But please, let me know first.
Rating: Not sure what the standard is but I'd guess at PG and General.
Spoilers; Major TWWW spoilers. Also TTLG, TGAS, DNAMS and CDM.
Timeframe; During TWWW.
Summary: The events of TWWW from Pilot's perspective.
He could sense it.
Not that it was easy to miss. Tension hung in the air like a heavy pall of thunder, powerful, pervasive and tangible enough to taste, ready to reap the destruction it's harsh presence was quick to imply, like a ripple of ice that echoed off the walls and cast the atmosphere in shimmering vibrations. True, it was possible that this was no more than the tag of one of the everyday arguments or bickering to which he had long become accustomed – tension was a way of life on this ship – but he couldn't shake the feeling that it was stronger somehow, running deeper and more dangerous, an actual threat to the hard won and never stable truce that had so recently triumphed over a cycle or more of contention.
Pilot was uneasy.
He hated not knowing what was happening. He sometimes felt as though his chamber was a huge cocoon that set him apart from the crew and in many ways this was beneficial, shielding him from the disputes amongst the crew. But it also left him isolated. He was more than used to the feeling of course – during his tenure as a pilot under the peacekeepers, the intentions and actions of his self designated masters had been a frightening mystery and although he received periodic visits from his present crew, by and large, his existence mostly slipped their minds. But being accustomed to being overlooked did not in any way make it easier to swallow and on more than one occasion, Pilot had seen fit to slip a subtle DRD into a cell or chamber in order to do a little constructive eavesdropping. He certainly didn't make a habit of it – such dishonest behaviour left him ashamed in spite of himself – but at times he realised with disturbing clarity that this was the only sure way to find out the truth of events beyond his chamber door.
He had been tempted. There was no denying it. When he become aware that the crew were gathering, with unusual soberness, in the cell belonging to Crichton – a meeting to which he had clearly not been invited - his claw had itched almost unconsciously towards the DRD control. His features twisted – quietly he weighed up the pros and cons of spying in his mind, his feelings torn this way and that between his natural curiosity and his desire to do the right thing. And his curiosity had been winning too – he'd very nearly done it. But at the last microt, a thought – a memory- had stayed his hand. His mind had flitted back, lingering with irritating persistence on another time, not so long ago when he had succumbed to weakness and surreptitiously monitored the crew. He had regretted that almost at once – he could still vividly recall the cold feeling of horror that had settled within him when he had discovered that they were seriously considering abandoning the pregnant and defenceless Moya to pursue their own courses elsewhere. In that case, ignorance had most definitely been bliss and the action he and Moya had impulsively taken as a result – he winced at the thought- had almost killed them all. So maybe there were times when he really was better off not knowing. He decided not to listen. It was better this way, he told himself. It showed respect. And trust. And after the incident with Traltixx, there was precious little of that to be found. It would be an unseen gesture but a gesture nonetheless. Besides, he knew that if something of real importance were to occur, there was one person at least on whom he could rely to keep him informed. At least he knew Aeryn would be honest with him.
So Pilot did nothing.
And quickly regretted it.
Because when the meeting broke up, the atmosphere on Moya felt like death.
And he had no idea why.
They were so tense. Disturbingly tense. Their images flitted through the vision of scattered DRDs, a gallery of hollow, ghostly faces with features set in grimaced frowns and eyes that whispered of haunting. They seemed almost absent, lost in their own minds as they mulled over some new change, new fact that had shaken their lives to the core. Self-absorbed, lost in memories, preoccupied with themselves alone, no one saw fit to share this world-shaking news with Pilot. He waited. He hoped.
But no one came.
In the end he gave up watching. It was disturbing him too much.
Pilot found himself staring full in the face of a dilemma. Just what should do now? He could ignore the situation, pretend ignorance that things were anything other than normal and wait until the tension died down. No. That was simply not an option. He couldn't let this go. Whatever had happened, it was big, and if it was big, it might affect Moya. So then, he would have to ask someone. But glancing from one image to the next, Pilot could see no one who looked to be in any sort of mood for a conversation. He would have attempted an eavesdrop but it was rather too late – silent as the grave, the crew sat alone far flung across the tiers. They weren't talking. Just thinking. And Pilot was no mind reader.
He didn't like it.
But what could he do?
Nothing. As usual.
It was suddenly too much. He had to know. It wasn't fair! Just once, just once, couldn't one of them remember he was there?
Suddenly determined, he reached out a claw towards the comm control, Aeryn's name teetering on his lips.
The door to his chamber swung open.
Pilot started. It was the surprise as much as anything. His thoughts had become so focussed on his internal debate that he had failed to notice that one of the very beings he had been silently cursing had approached his chamber unseen. He hurriedly concealed his confusion behind the impassive mask of professionalism he always tried to maintain in front of the crew, gazing down at his console as he pretended to busy himself. For a microt longer he remained thus, absorbed in non-existent tasks waiting for footsteps that never came, before he raised his head and glanced up perfunctionally to see who stood before him.
No one did.
It was Rygel.
That in itself was unusual enough to get his attention. Of all the crew, Rygel visited Pilot the least frequently – he couldn't recall seeing him in person more than once or twice in the cycle or more they'd been acquainted. There was nothing personal in it – at least not as far as Pilot was aware – but the navigator had always got the impression that there something about his chamber, and indeed himself that made the Hynerian uncomfortable. Pilot had long suspected it had something to do with size. The diminutive dominar seemed to resent the vastness that this room entailed. It made him feel insignificant and Pilot knew from experience that there was nothing that Rygel hated more than that.
So to find him here now was rare – especially when the rest of the crew seemed so determined to avoid his company. He watched, head tilted quizzically as the Hynerian edged his thronesled carefully across the walkway. He did not meet Pilot's gaze. On his lap, gripped firmly between his two small hands, was a silver holoimager.
What was this?
He decided to break the silence. "Can I help you with something, your eminence?" he asked politely. It was Rygel's turn to start. He stared at Pilot wild-eyed for a moment, almost as though he forgotten he was there. Then his expression fixed stubbornly and he floated forward to the edge of Pilot's console.
"No," he answered brusquely. "It's what I can do for you that matters."
Pilot stared. "I beg your pardon?"
With a determined expression, Rygel deposited the holoimager on top of the nearest of Pilot's flashing panels. "I'm going to help you, Pilot," he said firmly. "I'm going to open your eyes and show you the truth. You have to watch this."
He gestured to the imager. A holotape was inserted in the slot, ready to be played.
Pilot examined it with confusion. "What is it?" he asked.
"The truth behind a lie. I am a Dominar of principle, Pilot. The others felt that this should be kept from you but I do not agree. It's important that you watch it, from beginning to end. You won't like it, I'm sure, but you mustn't switch it off. There is something at the end that you deserve to see."
Abruptly, he turned to leave. Pilot was still staring at the imager. Truth behind lies? Something he deserved to see? A secret that the others would keep from him? He suddenly had a very bad feeling.
"Rygel!" he called out. The Dominar half turned, his expression unreadable. Pilot struggled for words.
"What is this all about?" he exclaimed. "Is this to do with all the tension between the others?"
The Hynerian's gaze never faltered. "Just watch it," he said. He turned away and tapped at the thronesled control.
The door closing behind him was like the echo of a tomb.
Pilot was perturbed. He suddenly wasn't sure that he really wanted to know any more. There had been an ominous edge to Rygel's words, an edge that set warning sirens ablaze in his mind and whispered that indulging his curiosity might not be such a good idea. Just what was there to see on this tape that was so bad?
But he needed answers. Pilot was curious by nature – he just couldn't help himself. His desire to know overrode his apprehension. Gently, nervously, he extended a claw and tapped the imager into life.
He was surprised. He wasn't sure why but he was. He squinted at the hologram, head slightly tilted. They were marching, it seemed. What was so bad about that? Peacekeepers marched all the time. It had no importance. Pilot felt his mood darkening. Was this Rygel's warped idea of a joke?
The thought trailed off. The peacekeepers moved brusquely into the light and Pilot got his first real look at their surrounds. Golden walls that flowed in gentle arcs, latticed doors and curving passages, sights he knew too well to mistake. A leviathan. They were on a leviathan.
This was Moya!
It was the past. That much was obvious. But when? A coldness chilled him deep inside; he felt suddenly sick. Moya, yes. But his?
Apprehension was rising like a tide in his mind. What was going on here? Things from the past made him nervous – they reminded him of times that he desperately wanted to forget. He watched as the peacekeeper band strode through Moya's labyrinthine corridors but he knew Moya well enough to follow their course.
They were closing on his chamber.
If it was his.
And then his eye caught upon the swarthy figure at the head of the troop and felt his heart turn to ice.
Don't let it be that!
A confusion of feelings overwhelmed him, breaking upon the inside of his mind in a turbulent, storm tossed sea of emotion. Did they know? Had they seen? Was this their way of showing their disgust with him? A terrible fear gripped his soul, a crushing fist that all but drove him mad. His claw tip wavered, yearned almost towards the switch that would swallow the image and take him back to a blissful state of carefully established forgetfulness. But he couldn't do it, frozen in place some how in a grim fascinated horror. The part of him that had deliberately wiped his memories away struggled to move. But the part of him that never forgot held him fast. You need to see this, it whispered. You cannot hide from yourself any more.
The door to the chamber swung open. He saw her.
And he wanted to scream.
Words were spoken – he listened without listening, his eyes fixed in hypnotic horror on the face of the person he had spent three cycles telling himself had never existed. He couldn't deal with this. It was too much. His carefully constructed shell of self-illusion shattered into shards and he found himself staring face on at stark reality. He'd never known her, never seen her before, and Moya, beyond those initial awkward days, had never spoken of her, since such discussions only distressed them both. But now, she was there, alive, determined, disturbingly real, vital and strong.
And he had taken that away from her.
The wash of terrible guilt that flooded his mind all but swept him away. He struggled between tears and desperate denial. It had been so simple before. He hadn't known her. He'd never seen her. She had no image in his mind. So it had been easy to convince himself she had never existed in the first place. But now all that was gone. She had a face, a voice, a personality – she was real. And he could hide from her no longer.
He saw it coming just in time. He knew Crais, knew the way his mind worked and the inflections of his voice that gave subtle hints as to where his impatient thoughts were leaning. He caught the intention just in time to turn his head aside.
Pulse fire seared his hearing. The chamber echoed with her screams.
Raw repulsion raked his body – he shivered uncontrollably. His mind shrank away from the terrible image he knew was awaiting him but his eyes weren't listening – a power beyond his control drew them back towards the scene. He felt sick, unclean, uncomfortable as he stared at the holographic depiction of very place in which he sat.
She had died here.
All around him.
For the first time in his three cycles behind the console, Pilot desperately wanted to get out. Tears burned his eyes – he found himself gasping for breath. Why were they making him go through this? Was it some kind of sick punishment? Didn't they think he had punished himself about it all these cycles? He had endured alone, never complaining, never arguing, facing agonies they didn't know and never could because he knew that he had earned it. Well, he would watch no more. The seizure that had gripped his claw in place relented – it moved quickly to wipe the image from his sight.
It's important that you watch it, from beginning to end. You won't like it, I'm sure, but you mustn't switch it off. There is something at the end that you deserve to see.
The thought froze dead. His world, already crumbling, collapsed.
He hit the pause. The image froze.
With a gun.
With a firing squad.
The firing squad.
Disbelief filled his soul. It couldn't be. But it was. She was there – here- then. She had no reason to be if she was not… Had not…
She had fired.
Everything seemed to drop away – the world shone with non-light. Nothing was left. Everything he had, everything that mattered to him, had been stripped away in the space of a few dozen microts.
He fought to stay in control. His mind was in chaos – a thousand thoughts tumbled out of control, a jumbled, tangled mass of incoherence. In the distance, far, far away, he could hear Moya calling, pleading, begging to know what was wrong, but he wouldn't, couldn't, shouldn't answer. In his desperation to restore himself he reached out a tenuous mental feeler, hunting in a flailing search for something to cling onto.
There is something at the end that you deserve to see.
Rygel. He meant Aeryn.
Pilot's mind snapped almost unwillingly into an ordered state. His fevered thoughts had snatched hold of something, a lifeline, a single fact that could save him from the descent into sheer, unconquerable despair. A coldness filled his mind, that grew and contorted into icy heat that filled his brain with flames and melted his guilt into nothingness.
He hadn't done it. He hadn't killed her.
It was so simple now. He didn't even have to hide from himself anymore. He wasn't the killer. It was nothing to do with him – he hadn't even been there. He had spent so long deceiving himself, concealing his own mind when he could have dispelled it all with this blatant realisation.
He had let himself forget her because she was faceless. But her murderers had been faceless too.
He had no one to blame but himself.
But now – now things were different.
The killer had a face. A face he'd trusted.
How could she?
She had deceived him. She had lied. She had pretended to him that she cared, that she had a heart and soul beneath that hard peacekeeper exterior, that she had feelings. He had let himself forget her past along with his own – the memories that came with peacekeeper thoughts were too painful to recall. It was a mistake. He had let her get close, liked her, become fond of her. She had wormed her way into his affections in spite of himself. He had seen her as a friend – the first true friend he'd ever had – and he thought she had seen him the same. But that was impossible now. How could she have called herself his friend when she knew about this? Had she been laughing about it behind his back? Thinking what a stupid, gullible creature he really was? What kind of cold-hearted monster was she?
He activated the clamshell.
"Officer Sun," he drawled coldly. "We must talk."
He raised the imager slowly in one claw. His eyes fixed on hers. She was staring at him in horror.
Good, he thought silently. Let her suffer.
He closed the screen.
Now he just had to wait.
He was not kept waiting long. He knew she was coming – his DRDs monitored her every step of the way. He half-expected her to bring a gun, to finish the job she had started three cycles before, but to his surprise she appeared to be unarmed. Well, it made no difference. It just evened up the odds.
He was ready for her. He didn't look up as the door to his chamber swung open, although his eyes flicked once in her direction, trying to ignore her, trying to maintain a certain studied indifference. If she could pretend all was normal so could he. But despite his careful absence, he was acutely aware of her presence, a stalking form of black and white approaching him across the walkway. He could almost sense the look on her face, the expression on her features, drawn and pale, bold and firm, her blue eyes pleading for his understanding. But he refused to weaken, fixing his mind on the cold peacekeeper face he had seen so shortly before. He kept his eyes down and endured.
"Pilot," Her voice was awash with emotions; fear, apprehension, guilt. Lies. She could act, he gave her that. "This is difficult for both of us."
His mind lashed out at her implication. No! Not for him! He had no part in her murderous actions!
His head snapped up; he met her gaze. Her face was drawn, her eyes red – she looked as though she'd been crying. Her blue eyes searched his face desperately for signs of forgiveness.
She would find none. He made sure of that.
"Both of us?" he snarled. "It isn't me on that recording committing barbaric slaughter! With no remorse!"
Her eyes seemed to flare at his words, glistening with hurt and horror. If he hadn't made himself know better, he would have thought his words had wounded her.
"This is me, Pilot, Aeryn!" There was desperation in her voice. "We are closer than any two others on this ship! I still carry remnants of your DNA inside me!"
He fought to maintain his composure. Memories of the times they'd spent together, talking, sharing thoughts and feelings, barricaded themselves in his mind. He'd never had a relationship like that before – built on trust and mutual understanding, shared experience and respect. She had treated him as more than just a servicer – she had treated him like a person. And he'd liked it. Liked her.
He forced the thoughts away. Spikes of malice reduced the barricades to splinters. He was not going to let her affect him! Their friendship had been a lie! It meant nothing! It's existence made no difference but to redouble the hurt he felt.
"That's why your betrayal cuts so deep!" he lashed back. Her expression fixed in heated anguish – her eyes fixed upon the holoimager. Lunging forward towards his console, she yanked the tape free and held it up.
"Your DNA is the same DNA as the pilot on this recording!" she exclaimed. Her voice was shaking. "Do you have any idea how I felt when I saw this? When I was reminded of what I had done?"
His brain exploded. The mental barriers fell – chaos reasserted itself with joyous fervour. The guilt all but knocked him unconscious. The same DNA. One of his own people, far more deserving than he. And she was dead now. And it was all his fault.
In that single spark of an instant, a battle waged in Pilot's head. He could hear a voice whisper, buried deep inside his mind. This is wrong. You cannot blame her like this. She acted as she was told to act. She was one amongst many. It was death to disobey. You should not inflict on her the punishment you wish upon yourself. It was your fault. Accept it. Only then can you move on.
But he couldn't listen. It was too frightening, too painful,
too close to the truth for him to face. His thoughts rallied defiantly to swamp
the voice within.
It was then he knew that she had to die.
Only then would he be free.
He barely thought. He could barely feel. He simply lashed out. His claw closed around her throat – lost in a haze of red, he lifted her from the ground, screaming with a passion he had never known that he possessed. Memories flooded his mind, tearing, ripping at his consciousness; he saw himself once more, gagged, bound and humiliated, treated like an object or a casual piece of cargo. He saw the face of Velorek, an ambivalent enigma, on the one hand kind and caring, compassionate and gentle, on the other a mask of mystery, a liar and deceiver who tricked him into space with promises and left him instead with pain. His mind recoiled from the recollections, shying away from memories of confusion and deception, joy and apprehension that left him feeling as though his whole world was a lie. Through a veil of scarlet, he saw the face of Aeryn Sun, once beloved, now reviled, struggling desperately against his pincer hold on her suddenly vulnerable neck. Beyond her, a blur of colour and light, two more figures burst into the fray. Faces he knew, faces with names – Crichton, D'Argo – but in that moment, that mad crimson instant, they were no more than distractions, intruders intent on ruining his revenge, on preventing him from eliminating three cycles worth of torment.
He would not stop now. He wanted it to be over.
One way or another.
Once and for all.
With a single sweep of an arm, he hurled the intruders aside. Somewhere deep inside, a tiny part of his brain still functioned – he knew that they would rise again, charge again. He couldn't let them. He stabbed at a control, felt the whoosh and a violent wind as the atmosphere in his chamber vented. The pull caught Crichton and D'Argo, drew them across the room and quickly out of contention.
He would not be thwarted! He would see this through!
What are you doing? Look at yourself.
The soft thought murmured out of the corner of his brain he'd long thought subdued. He fought it, but it refused to be silent.
This isn't you. You know that. You would kill her in cold blood. Make yourself into the very thing you condemn and seek to destroy. If you kill her, you are as bad as her. No, you are worse. You will have two innocent deaths on your conscience.
With a roar of frustration and anguish at his own inability, he hurled her back onto the walkway, as he snapped closed the vents. His eyes fixed on the slumped, gasping form that he had once called friend and rage burned within him. Her face, once dear to him and trusted without thought, was now a taunting reminder of his terrible, secret past, a past that was now teetering perilously on the brink of outright exposure. She had ruined his life and he couldn't stand the sight of her.
Because it made him think too much.
He had been right. She had to go.
She was a killer, his predecessor's murderer. Her presence on Moya was a sacrilege. It was she, not him, not him, who needed to be punished.
"You killed this ship's first pilot! The pilot that belonged here! I will not have you aboard defiling her with your presence! Until Aeryn leaves this vessel, Moya will not move another metra!"
It was the work of microts to power down Moya's systems. Lights dimmed, pulses faded. Slowly, reluctantly, she drifted to a halt.
All around, there was silence.
They left quickly. No one saw fit to try and speak to him – one glance at his face was enough to see the futility of that. He ignored their departure with icy indifference, staring grimly down at the panels in front of him. He felt empty somehow, absent, detached from all around him, unable to establish how he thought or felt. Somewhere along the way, he had lost himself.
Slowly, slowly, he felt his anger drain away. His mind slowed from its mad rush, teased away it's tangles and settled down into some confused semblance of coherence. Almost at once, his thoughts filled with guilt, coupled with substantial self-loathing. Quickly he pushed it away. He would not succumb. He would stay strong. Once and for all, he would resolve this!
Suddenly, he became aware of Moya. She was distressed,
disturbed, concerned and anxious, a flood of emotions that he really could have
But as his rage subsided, so did his self-deceit. He became aware – uncomfortably aware- that it wasn't Aeryn upsetting Moya. It was him. It was his brooding and mental turmoil, his hidden guilt and involuntary self-torture that was unsettling her gentle soul. A pleading note rippled through his mind – she wanted to know what was wrong with him, what was tormenting him so. She almost seemed to beg.
It was too much. Closing his eyes, he pushed her silent voice to the back of his mind, shutting her out as best he could. He couldn't tell her, couldn't drag up that whole business again. It had been difficult enough for them both the first time around and afterwards they had made an unspoken double resolve to never speak of it again. He had to ignore her. He loved her too much to put her through all that once more.
Their journey together had not been an easy one. The first touch of their minds had been in the midst of a terrible torture – hardly an auspicious start. The distress and mistrust that had been his first true impression of her had stayed vivid in his mind ever since. She had not wanted him. She had wanted her old pilot back, the pilot she loved and trusted. He was an intruder. He was wrong.
The memory hurt. It had been a battle to win her trust, fighting his own incompetence in a clumsy attempt to control her, whilst desperately trying to reassure. It had taken a long time to break down the barriers erected by their agonising first union but eventually they had. Moya had not been sure of him at first, but after spending a while locked in each other's minds, she had come to realise and acknowledge that he really did mean her no harm. The pain of their bonding had not been his fault – he had suffered as much as she had. He wanted to protect her. He had never wanted it to be this way.
Somehow, they'd moved on. Moya was a beautiful creature at heart; she'd fought hard to put their beginnings behind them, to form a true partnership with her new symbiont, once she was sure his intentions were good. They'd quickly found that they had a surprising amount in common; it did not take long for them to grow to like each other. Slowly, the feelings had strengthened, solidified, like to fondness, fondness to love. They relied on each other. They loved each other. At last, they were a true team.
It hadn't been easy.
Especially for Pilot.
He knew he was not as good at his job as his predecessor. He knew that Moya knew it too, although in her goodness, she had never told him so. But Pilot didn't need telling. He had to face it every day. He didn't always know what he was doing. He'd never been given the training a chosen pilot would have had – he'd mostly had to pick things up on his own. He still wasn't sure of all the controls, even after three cycles – he was lucky that this part of a pilot's job was more instinctive than taught, or he would have been in real dren. He got easily confused. His analysis skills left more than a little to be desired – it still took him several hundred microts to sort through data others of his kind could handle in several dozen. He wasn't stupid – he had simply never been shown what to do. He was probably one of the few bonded pilots in existence to be almost entirely self-taught. And it had never been a problem – until Moya's escape from the peacekeepers and the release of the control collar. It had changed his workload drastically. It had altered everything and he'd had to begin virtually from scratch. He had hidden it from the crew as best he could – luckily none of them had had enough experience with his kind to realise how unusual he really was in comparison. But sometimes, it was not only humiliating – it was dangerous. It affected other people's lives. Like that first StarBurst. His first StarBurst, to escape from the peacekeepers. He'd never done it before. He had barely known where to start. If Moya hadn't told him what to do, it might not have happened at all. And afterwards, of course, he had got them lost. There was no avoiding it. He had tried his best to re-establish their position and had failed utterly. And now, they'd been lost and pursued ever since.
And it was his fault.
Wherever he went, he seemed to ruin lives. In his tenure as her pilot he had got Moya into more trouble than he had prevented. There were times when he thought she would be better off without him.
The scrape of the chamber door interrupted his thoughts. He looked up and found himself staring at Crichton. He looked grim.
"Pilot," he said firmly, as he started to make his way across the walkway. "We need to talk. Let's hash this out, right here, right now. Five cents, the Doctor is in."
For a microt, Pilot didn't respond. His mind shivered, torn about with feelings of inadequacy and guilt. He didn't deserve to be here! Moya had been correct in that moment of first meeting. He wasn't her pilot. He was wrong. It wasn't Aeryn's fault, not really – it wasn't anyone's but his own. And his crew deserved to know that. He had disrupted their lives with his inability enough already. They deserved to understand why.
He told Crichton. Afterwards, he could never remember exactly what he said – he was simply too caught up in the memory, the terrible memory of his traumatic bonding to Moya. The words hurt – how could he describe the feelings of that awful time? His feelings of inadequacy, of wrongness rose like wildfire in his heart. He wasn't good enough for Moya and he never would be. She was such perfect being – she deserved so much better than he could provide. She had never really wanted him – if she were to be offered her old pilot back, he was certain that she would take her in a flash. He was unworthy, an interloper, an invader who had forced himself upon her out of a selfish desire to fly.
She would be better off without him.
Something inside of him snapped – three cycles of pressure, of guilt and bad feeling tumbled down to fill his mind to bursting point. In the sudden deluge, his tenuous lifeline snapped – once and for all, he let go and let himself be carried away. His self-control was gone, his rationality a long lost memory.
He had killed his predecessor.
He had tortured Moya.
Aeryn wasn't the one who didn't deserve to live.
Bitterness filled his mind; bitter words spilled from his lips. He felt sick, scared and furious, but he knew what he had to do.
"Moya only accepted me because she was tortured into it! Tortured into it!"
Crichton was staring but he didn't see. He could see nothing, nothing but the pain he had caused, nothing but the agonising truths about himself he had kept hidden for so long.
He hated himself.
And he wanted to die.
He scrambled underneath himself, twisting, contorting in positions he barely knew he was capable of. He could feel the terrible throb of his artificial bond, taunting him, mocking him, tearing at his soul; he longed to leave it behind, to live as he once had, without constant pain, constant suffering. His claws fixed on the pitifully thin twist of tendrils and cables that made him a part of Moya, yanking them, pulling, desperately trying to break free. He wanted out of this all so badly, he just didn't care any more. He couldn't go on like this. It hurt too much; inside and out.
Then with a flash of bright pain, the connection broke. He was free.
The pain vanished, leaving behind a dull ache and a strange feeling of relief. His mind felt empty and strangely dull. He felt nothing.
The silence was deafening.
Emptiness filled his mind – for the first time in three
cycles his thoughts were his and his alone. His senses felt dimmed, lessened –
the world around him seemed to recede into a blurry sensory haze. He became
aware all at once of his body, achy, clumsy, trapped in place, a part of
himself that, since the onset of the pain, he had done his best to ignore
altogether. His eyes seemed to fix in numb disbelief upon the bundle of cables
grasped in one twitching claw, cables which until a few microts ago had been
his life, both spiritually and physically. Purple blood – his blood – fell in
waterfalls to splash across his console, his very life literally draining away
before his eyes. He knew he ought to care, but somehow he didn't. He faced his
own death and felt nothing at all.
A voice intruded onto his silence – Crichton. He was staring in shocked disbelief, his eyes wide, his features taut. He looked almost afraid, but at the same time confused. He didn't understand.
"Pilot, what the Hell have you…" he whispered, his voice trailing off as he took a step forward, torn between aiding a friend and keeping a wary distance. Pilot felt a strange resentment towards the human – this was a private moment, a life-changing, life-ending moment. Suicide should not have an audience. And he deserved to die alone. He did not want him here.
When Pilot spoke, his voice was harsh. "Moya is free of me!" he exclaimed hoarsely. He almost seemed to need the words, to explain to himself as much as Crichton what exactly he'd just done. "I'm no longer bonded to her!"
The words shook his mind to a semblance of comprehension. A part of him was screaming deep inside, hardly able to believe what he'd just done. No more Moya. No more stars. In one impulsive instant, he had given up everything he ever wanted. Everything he had ever cared about. Everything that had ever mattered in his life. Everything he had never deserved. And now he was going to die. Which he did deserve. And at least he could die at peace.
For there was no pain.
No pain at all.
He became vaguely aware of Crichton, scrambling up onto his console, staring in raw shock at the flowing purple blood that leaked from Pilot's former lifeline. He was saying something, shouting something, but Pilot didn't hear him, lost in the depths of himself once again. His mind seemed to be wrapped in a cocoon of sensory deprivation – he was too numb to comprehend emotions at all. He was alone, despite the company, beyond understanding, beyond words, unaware, uncomprehending and left with only one fact with which to hold onto the real world.
"The pain is finally gone," he whispered.
It was a while before he realised that Crichton had gone. The human had remained a few microts longer, bellowing, bawling at the unresponsive Pilot, but when he had realised it was not going to get him an answer, he had thrown up his hands and stormed out of the Chamber. With an almost mechanical unconsciousness, Pilot had muttered a few words of his complex language to the flock of DRDs that always surrounded him, issuing intricate vocal orders in a brief flurry of clipped words. Around him, the doors ground to a close and the adjacent passageways filled with armed protectors that would guard him from intrusion. The last thing Pilot wanted at that moment was visitors. He wanted to die alone.
He deserved to die alone.
It was big.
It was dark.
He'd never realised. His mind caught on a memory, far back in his mind. Crichton. The wide-eyed human, new to Moya, new to space. After a few days aboard Moya, as the reality of his situation had sunk in, he'd asked Zhaan about Pilot. Was he real or just a hologram, did he have a physical body to speak to face to face? Zhaan had directed him to the chamber. He could still recall the way the human's eyes had bulged the first time he'd laid eyes on him and it had taken a great deal of inducement and numerous reassurances of safety to make him cross the chasm of the walkway. After a while and a short conversation, the human had relaxed and started to gaze around. Then he'd said it.
"How do you live like this?"
Pilot hadn't understood. Crichton had raved on for a while, trying to explain. He couldn't move. He couldn't get out. There was no natural light. The scenery never changed. It was big and it was dark. Why wasn't he going crazy?
Pilot had seen no darkness. And nothing was the same. He'd thought the human rather strange and dismissed his questions without a second thought. His senses had obviously been clouded. He couldn't see the truth.
But now Pilot understood. For the first time in three cycles he looked at the world with his eyes and his alone.
And he found everything that Crichton had said. No light. Dull walls. Big and dark.
Why wasn't he going crazy?
There was no time like the present.
And he couldn't move. For the first time, Pilot became fully aware of just how uncomfortable he felt. His body ached in ways he had almost forgotten – jarred limbs, tender spine, the rub of his skin against the securing ring below him. He felt grounded and disconcertingly substantial. Normally, his activities, his link with Moya took his mind off of mundane, everyday physical sensation. Now, they were all he had.
The world came into focus – everything became disturbingly real. His mind and senses seemed to clear, adapting to their old regime, the one he'd thought long left behind. He was sitting alone, in the darkness. Flickers of movement teased the corners of his eyes – he knew it wasn't real, that there was nothing there, but his head seemed to twitch of it's own accord all the same. A vague absence seemed to creep over his mind, a strange but familiar sensation as strands of his multiple thoughts seemed to peel and melt away, falling into blackness. His body felt weak and strangely distant – it took conscious effort for him to move. He knew what was happening, knew that he was dying – he had experienced it before, when Moya had cut his nutrient flow in order to nourish her baby. But there was a strength to it this time, a determination – he could feel himself slipping away and there was no one there to catch him. Later, he could only describe it as fading.
He grappled for a moment with the thought of death. A black nowhere opened out before him, a blank void of lifelessness that seemed to call his name with sickening tantalisation. He would have been lying if he didn't admit that it terrified him. With his long ambition to be a pilot, he'd always known that he would die long before his natural time but hadn't expected death to claim him quite this soon. He was still very young by the reckoning of his people – teetering precariously between adolescence and adulthood – and he had barely lived yet. There was so much he'd wanted to see, so far he'd wanted to explore. Even under the peacekeepers, he had dreamed that it could happen and he'd made a start, with his new crew, despite of the trouble that seemed to constantly tow in their wake. He'd always thought someday, someday, he'd get that chance. The thought that someday was never going to come made him feel hollow inside, but he knew he had no right to regret it. This was his own fault. This was what he deserved. A life for a life. It was only fair. If he had shown just a little more patience, someday would still be waiting for him.
A tremor pulsed through the chamber – Pilot jerked in spite of himself, half calling to Moya for an answer before remembering she wasn't going to hear. The convulsion lasted a microt longer and then ceased, its echo a dying fall on the dull dark walls beyond. Pilot bit back a sudden urge to scream. He could still feel Moya's gentle pulse, an ebb and flow of vibrations running through his console and the feeling was an agony to him, a tantalising, tempting whisper of the life, the love he'd left behind. He missed Moya with an ache that refused to go away, despite his best efforts to swamp it. He wanted desperately to feel the gentle touch of her mind, the warm glow of her presence, the flood of her emotion and sensation. It was so hard, not knowing how she felt, no being there to offer reassurance in her times of fear, to comfort her, laugh with her, share the universe together. It had taken so long to achieve the beautiful relationship they had and he had thrown it away in a moment of pique. What must she think of him now?
A surge of regret swept through him – roughly he pushed it aside. It didn't matter what she thought, what anyone thought! It was for the best! He knew that his actions would have dire consequences for the crew in terms of the imminent failure of life support, but he didn't really care. They could always leave Moya if they had to – if they stayed, it would be their stubbornness, not him who had killed them. But Moya had to come first and this was easily what was best for her. Once he was dead, she could travel to his home world and get herself a real pilot, a good pilot, a chosen pilot who deserved her, who could handle a Starburst and take proper care of her in ways he could never and would have never managed. She could have a pilot worthy of her – the pilot she would have had but for his selfish intervention. He just wished that he had told Moya that so she didn't seem so distressed.
He yearned for her. He was all too aware that in his haste to hide his thoughts and stop the pain, he'd never explained what was happening to her. He wished with all his heart that he could talk to her, just for a microt, to apologise for all he'd put her through, tell her what she had to do and warn her what was coming, instead of leaving her to suffer confused and alone. He wished he'd had a chance to say goodbye.
But it was too late now. Far too late.
Absently, he wondered if she'd miss him.
A clang echoed from the walls like a sharp blade of sound; a grate tumbled to the floor before the entrance to his chamber. Two figures, dark as night leapt out of the air to land with a thump on the walkway. Their silhouettes were hard and bleak; in their hands they held pulse pistols.
Aeryn and Crichton.
Why couldn't they just leave him to die in peace?
Pilot felt a flare of indignant frustration. Was it really so much to ask? To die alone? Why was it these people never respected his wishes?
He wanted them out. He wanted them gone. His death was not an entertainment to be viewed by a mocking audience! They had no right to do this!
The command spilled from his lips unbidden.
The DRDs opened fire.
He did not aim at them directly – his homicidal impulses had been cleansed by his earlier assault of Aeryn. Instead he ordered a smattering of fire to skim them, scare and repel them, make them think twice about coming any closer, chase them out so as to give himself time to die. He knew if he let them approach they would try to talk him out of it, and despite his terror of death, the thought of living scared him more. He would see this through. And he couldn't let them stop him.
But his plan failed. Aeryn and Crichton seemed startled by his attack, but they weren't afraid, weren't repelled, weren't fooled. The energy blasts made them jump back – he heard Crichton call out his name, as if such a plea would have any effect. They exchanged a glance then moved as one, a swift double blur of speed. Two pulse pistols snapped up; two lightning bolts of harsh red energy seared the air to explode behind him. DRDs ignited all around him, slammed into inactivity one after another by the scarlet lash of pistol red. The air seemed to scream, the chamber a fiery blaze of glory that burned the eyes and blinded the senses in a haze of vicious light. The invaders were a pair of black shadows flickering in and out of vision behind a curtain of combat, there one microt, gone the next, but at each flash of sight, they were larger, nearer, closing in upon him like the whisper of death itself.
It was over. Like waking from a vivid nightmare, the world changed in a microt, from hellish maw of fire, to still and icy quietude. Aeryn and Crichton stood before him, pulse pistols extended towards his face, their pale faces a pair of grim, sharp edged masks. They looked like peacekeepers.
Fury rose like a swirling wind in Pilot's heart. Why must they torment him so? Why couldn't they just leave him alone?
"Get out of my Chamber!" he growled, his eyes a pair of fiery suns. "Leave me alone!"
Aeryn's expression never changed. Her features remained fixed and cold. She was the image from the holotape brought to life once more, a ghost of the chamber revived to come and sear his soul.
"No, Pilot, we need to talk," she said her voice at once both harsh and soft. For some reason, this infuriated Pilot all the more. What was there to talk about that she thought would make a difference? Although deep down inside, he no longer held her entirely to blame, she was still a killer. He was responsible for his predecessor's death – he could admit that now, at least to himself. But although he had caused the situation, he hadn't taken part in it. She had still pulled the trigger. Under orders, yes, but that still did not leave her absolved.
And there was more. Aeryn had been his friend once – deep inside, much as he tried to deny it, a part of him still cared about her. He had a feeling about why she was here, that she was going to try somehow to use that weakness of his to persuade him to live so that life support would be restored. He would have to be careful - he knew all too well that he could not afford to let her get too close. The icy gaze of death had weakened his resolve – he was frightened in ways he did not comprehend. A part of him was crying out to his once best friend, yearning for her to change his mind, to catch him before he fell, to pull him back from the brink and give him back his someday. But he also knew that he couldn't let that happen. He had come too far now. For the first time in three circles, he had broken free of self-deceit and stepped into the light of truth. He had finally moved forward, met his actions head on and faced up to what he had done and now, after such a painful saga of agony, self-deception and twisted, soul-tearing guilt, he was almost at the end of it. If he just held onto his strength, then once and for all, he could, at last, find rest. He would suffer the fate he deserved and finally be at peace. A dark sleep of no remorse, no voices in the dark. He couldn't live with himself any longer. It had to end.
And he couldn't let them stop it. He had to stay angry, make them think he still wanted Aeryn dead. He had to drive them away before they made him do something he would regret deep down forever.
Quite deliberately, Pilot flooded his mind with bitter thoughts. He knew what was at the forefront of their minds. Life support. Not his life either. They didn't care about him, not really. All they cared about was themselves, about maintaining their cosy little existence. If he died, they would have to leave Moya or follow in his wake. It was the only reason they were here. All other words they spoke, all other intentions proclaimed were nothing more than lies.
"Talk!" he snapped bitterly. "You want the chance to tell me how non-violent you are now! Or what? You'll blast me into pieces like you did the Pilot who used to sit here?"
Her reaction shocked him. The muzzle of the gun thrust closer to his face, the icy features of its owner taut with fury and frustration as she lunged towards him. He shrank back instinctively, half of him afraid and angry at her threat, half of him willing her to pull the trigger and speed him on his way.
"Stay away from me!" he cried, but she paid him no heed, her eyes fixed like spikes of ice that stabbed at his soul, burying themselves in his heart, in a desperate search for answers.
"Tell me now, Pilot, talk to me right now, or I swear I'll…."
Crichton intervened. With no peacekeeper blood in his veins, he could see that force was not the solution in such a situation. But Pilot hardly noticed. He had seen more than just raw anger in the depths of Aeryn's eyes. She was afraid. A peacekeeper, afraid! But afraid of what?
Angrily, he shook himself. He mustn't be affected! Remember why they're here! They don't care! Any fear is for herself!
Crichton's soft voice drew his attention. "Pilot, we're just here to help. If you stay disconnected from Moya like this, you'll starve to death."
Like you really care about me, Pilot told himself grimly. Like any of you have ever cared! I'm just a servicer to you, someone to do all of the work and be ignored as it suits you! No gratitude, no respect! You let them cut my arm off! And if Namtar had had your world on his charts, you'd have been right there helping them! Selfish! All selfish!
He wasn't going to let them think that he was stupid enough to be fooled.
"And with no one to regulate them, your precious life support systems won't function properly," he hissed bitterly. Crichton almost seemed to wince at his remark.
"Yeah, right, fine, we all want you back in the seat," he said quickly. Pilot didn't believe a word of it. If they had access to another pilot, they'd have happily let him die. Crichton was watching him intently.
"Moya must be pretty worried wondering where the Hell you've got to," he added, with concern.
That hurt. The one thing he could have done without was a reminder of Moya. He bit back a terrible sweep of anxiety and regret, forcing himself to maintain his exterior façade. He would not let Crichton see he had struck a nerve! He would not give him the satisfaction! It was for the best! He knew it!
"Doesn't matter," he said softly, trying to hide his distress. "She'll be better off without me."
There was a clatter on his console. He looked down.
Aeryn's pulse pistol.
She had thrown down her weapon.
Thrown it to him.
He stared at her in surprise. She was watching him, her face a labyrinth of harsh edges and shadowed hollows that carved an expression of raw emotion. Her eyes were tortured, pained. Fear, frustration, anguish and regret twisted and writhed behind the soft centres of blue. And they were fixed on him. Not a servicer. Not a pilot. On him. The real him. The him that less than a day before had been her closest friend.
She spoke. And he listened.
"That recording brought back memories of a time none of us wanted to remember." The hurt in her eyes was bold and unrestrained. "Based on my actions back then, I deserve to die. And if you want to kill me, then I'm not going to stop you. But please, spare the others and yourself."
She was offering to sacrifice herself. Offering to give her life so that her friends could be saved. So that he could be saved. She was prepared to go that far, to make what she saw as her fault right.
Was that the act of a selfish being? Was that the act of a peacekeeper?
He'd tried to pretend she couldn't have changed. He tried to pretend she was still one of the heartless monsters who had treated him and Moya so badly during their time of enforced slavery. But it wasn't true. He'd known that. He'd always known, however violently he'd tried to deny it. He'd taken all the hate and loathing he felt for himself and projected it onto her. He'd given himself someone new to blame and despise, someone else to punish. In his desperation to absolve himself, he'd let himself forget who she was now. The friend who talked to him, protected him, cared about him. The friend he'd come to love. She had changed since those awful days.
He couldn't let this go on. His intention had been to punish himself but others apart from he were being harmed as well. Aeryn and Moya did not deserve the treatment he had thrust upon them. Aeryn did not deserve to blame herself. He had it in his power to free her from the torture of guilt that he himself endured. Had he any right to make her suffer along side him?
He didn't want it to be secret anymore. He wanted her to understand. Wanted her to see why it was he was doing this. Why he had to die.
"Aeryn Sun," he said haltingly. He felt strangely calm. The decision was made. The truth would be known. He would not bear the weight of his knowledge alone. He would go to his grave lightened by confession. "It is not you who deserved death. It is I."
They looked confused. Crichton stepped forward, his expression questioning.
"So you're not Moya's original pilot, so you replaced her," he said. "You can't blame yourself for that."
This was it. And he was ready.
"I didn't only replace the old pilot…."
The words came with surprising ease. He began to speak, slowly, nervously, forced through the sheer power of the memory and his turbulent emotions to pause from time to time. He was certain that they would hate him now as much as he hated himself but the sheer relief of releasing the locked cage of his guilt after three cycles of pressure overrode any regret he felt at their lost friendship. He would be dead soon enough. What matter if he lost his friends?
He told them everything, no holding back, no denial or self-deceit. He spilled out the raw facts, the raw truth of his meeting with Velorek, how the strength of his selfish desire had overridden his morals and reason, how he had told himself over and over that it wouldn't be his fault if this unknown pilot died. He told of how Velorek had beguiled him, smoothly playing off his desperation but making no attempt to deny that the decision to come had been anyone's other than his own. It was his fault. He had killed her. And they deserved to know.
"The fate of Moya's true pilot was sealed at that moment."
He struggled to control himself, struggled to complete his tale before his
emotions got the better of him entirely. "So you see, Aeryn, it wasn't really
you who caused her death. It was me." His voice broke slightly. He could feel
the tears breaking free but he made himself continue. "If
There. It was out. He felt awful, but at the same time relieved, as though a great weight that had locked his mind in place had lifted away with the admission. He knew that they would despise him now. They wouldn't want to stay any longer. They would leave in disgust, and he could finally, finally, die in peace. How could they not hate him? He felt a deep pang of regret at the loss of Aeryn's friendship, but there was no helping it. A friendship relied on honesty. And he still cared about her even if she would no longer care for him. And his death would make her happy. It would be better for them all.
He looked at her.
She was crying.
Aeryn Sun was crying.
Crying for him.
There was no hatred in her eyes. There was sadness, yes, poignancy and sympathy but not the loathing he had expected. She did not look angry at all. Her eyes caught his and held. Gently, tentatively, she extended a hand towards him, brushing his cheek with tender fingers. Her touch was like gentle music against his skin.
"Do you remember when you first came aboard Moya?" she said, her voice a soft whisper of shimmering emotion. "Velorek stroked your cheek like this to calm you. Back then I couldn't fathom why he'd do a thing like that. And now I couldn't fathom not doing it! We've come a long way since then, Pilot. And we've still got a long way to go. Take the journey with me."
Everything tumbled. His anger, his guilt, his steely, deathly resolve – all melted in the wake of Aeryn's simple words. He had thought himself alone and friendless – he had thought his death would be welcomed and beneficial to them all. But he had been wrong. And if Aeryn could forgive him, after all he'd put her through, all he'd tortured her with, could he forgive himself?
Not now. Not at once.
But maybe with time….
The call of the black void of death faded. Instead, a distant someday seemed to beckon.
He didn't want to die. He didn't want to lose Moya. He had tried to kill himself because the secrets of his past made it too painful to live. But the pain was gone now, physically and mentally. He had nothing left to hide. He had stripped himself bare, cast away all pretence and secrecy. And what he had found was not so very bad after all. It would not erase his guilt – nothing could do that – but without the constant reminder of the pain and with the friendship of Aeryn to help him through, he suddenly felt as though he could live with it.
Gently, tentatively, he raised one of his claws to her cheek, returning her gesture with unspoken gratitude. Her hand closed around it, sealing it in place, as though it belonged there forever. Tears stained her face, but still she smiled.
"I know a procedure," His voice shook with nerves at the step he was taking. To live. To face his problems instead of hiding from them. To have the strength to continue his life and put his past behind him. "Some temporary connections that can be made to give me back rudimentary control of Moya's systems."
Aeryn's smile spread. Her face was a wash of relief and she squeezed his claw gently, a silent gesture of support. You aren't alone, it said. You'll never be alone. I'll help you through this. We'll get through it together.
And Pilot knew that she was right.
Crichton was smiling too. "Okay then," he said softly. "Let's get started."
A start. A beginning. A new chapter in his life. Pilot knew it would not be easy. The spectre of his predecessor would not be easily dispelled. But he would have Aeryn with him, and soon, once again, he would have Moya. He looked forward to that moment with an almost desperate yearning. He could start afresh. Live his life, instead of suffering it. Finally be happy. Finally be content.
Could he do it? He wasn't sure.
But he was going to try.