Time and Again - Part One

Time and Again - Part One.  

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 jesspallas@hotmail.com

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. No naughtiness (sorry shippers) but there are a few fights.

Spoilers; Nothing major. References to TWWW, EFG, HOTR and DMS.

Summary: Moya is invaded by a race with a grudge against Pilot's species.

  The warning beacon hung against a backdrop of stars, it's red light blinking like a watchful eye that glared at those standing in command. The echo of the message, so recently played seemed to hang like a pall over them all. Now what would they do?


 "It was just a threat," Chiana muttered unconvincingly. "Maybe they won't go through with it."

"And maybe they will." Aeryn's voice was cold. "Do you want to take that risk?"

 John stepped forward, his features reflecting the concern felt by all at this unpleasant development.

"None of us want to risk it Aeryn," he said wearily, "But what other choice have we got? The only commerce planet within lightcycles of here is sitting on the other side of that beacon. We're running low on food. We'll be down to chewing on each other soon and I for one don't want to find out if Sparky tastes as bad as he smells!"

"Much as I hate to agree with Crichton, he is correct," Rygel imposed loftily, choosing to ignore John's remark as he glided forward on his thronesled. "We need to reach that planet. We're down to our last haunches of Keva!"

"And who's fault is that?" D'Argo muttered under his breath. Rygel shot him a dirty look but didn't rise to the bait.

"I'm sure the Rani won't chose to attack us," he continued, "And even if they do…." He paused. "It isn't as though they threatened all of us…"

Aeryn was across the Command in microts, fire burning in her eyes. Only D'Argo's reflex grab kept her from ripping Rygel apart on the spot.

"You be so callous as to sacrifice his life for food after all he's done for us? You obnoxious little slug!"

  John quickly placed himself between the peacekeeper and the object of her wrath.

"Easy, Aeryn," he said calmingly. "Let's not fight amongst ourselves, huh? That ain't gonna solve the problem."


Reluctantly Aeryn stepped back. D'Argo released her waist warily but she made no further lunges, settling for an icy glare at Rygel that could have felled armies. The Hynerian almost instinctively shrunk back.


John was gazing pensively out of the front portal at the beacon, it's lazy spin belying it's threatening nature.

"This isn't our call," he said abruptly. "We aren't the ones facing death threats here and we've no right to go making the decisions."

He turned to the clamshell. "Pilot?"


 Even through the hologram, the navigator looked pale. The unexpected brutality of the message had shaken him badly.

"I have heard of the Rani," he confessed. "Few amongst my species haven't. Their hatred of us is legendary."

"What makes the Rani despise your people enough to threaten slow death to any they catch?" Zhaan was watching the clamshell with concern.

Pilot sighed. "I don't know exactly. I had always believed the Rani a myth until now. But it is said in stories that they worship leviathans as sky gods but consider us parasites who dominate and imprison them. It is believed they desire to free their gods from our invasion."

"Don't they realise the leviathans need you guys?" John asked curiously.

"I doubt it. I imagine if my kind tried to tell them, they would simply be ignored."

"Like the Draks," John muttered under his breath. "Nobody listens to the parasite."

He caught the indignant look on Pilot's face and raised his hands apologetically. "I don't mean you are a parasite, Pilot! I was just….Forget it! Look, we still have a decision to make here. Do we go on or not? It's up to you."

"Why should he be the one to decide?" Rygel declared indignantly. "It's not as though he's going to starve to death! And he won't have to deal with Zhaan in bud!"

"But he is the one who could die!" Aeryn snapped. "Shut up, Rygel!"

Pilot sighed again. "I am afraid," he admitted. "But I cannot risk you all for the sake of something that may not even happen. We will continue."

John smiled. "Thanks Pilot. Keep the scanner out wide, huh? I'd like plenty of warning if the Rani decide to drop by."

"You're not the only one," Pilot muttered nervously. The imager shimmered and he was gone. The others exchanged glances as Moya glided slowly passed the beacon and entered Rani patrolled space. John stared out at the innocent looking stars.

"Once more into the breech, dear friends," he murmured.


Meeting only blank looks, he sighed and turned his attention to the controls.




The next few arns passed without incident. The crew maintained a constant watch in command, backing up Pilot with the reassurance of their presence. They could do little to assist the navigator but having someone on constant call seemed to calm his nerves somewhat. But still, he remained obviously ill at ease, saying little, preferring to concentrate on his work. Aeryn had observed him carefully throughout her watch and gradually she became convinced that there was something he wasn't telling them. There was nothing specifically different about his behaviour – a slight edge to his voice and expression that wouldn't have even been noticeable to someone who knew him less well , but to her implied that he was hiding something. She couldn't fathom why or what it might be but it concerned her for what ever it was, was clearly adding to his discomfort. So when Chiana arrived to relieve her, she chose to ignore her weariness and made her way down to the Den.


 Pilot glanced up nervously as she entered. Aeryn noticed that the DRDs that frequented the chamber had almost doubled in number and were all touting an impressive array of weaponry. Almost reluctantly, they rolled aside in a ripple of yellow and allowed her to pass unhindered. She crossed the walkway without comment and pulled herself up onto the bright lights of Pilot's consoles, settling herself in beside her friend. Pilot watched in silence, a query in his eyes.

"Officer Sun," he acknowledged. "Is something the matter?"

"I was about to ask you the same question," Aeryn watched his face carefully, searching for answers. "Pilot, you've not been yourself ever since we found that warning beacon. I know you must be afraid, but I think I know you well enough to see that's not all that's wrong. There's more to these Rani than you've told us, isn't there?"


For a moment, she thought he was going to deny it. But then his head bowed and he looked away, his expression distressed. Aeryn waiting patiently, knowing better than to rush him. He would explain in his own good time.

"It's just a story," he ventured at last with a distinct reluctance. "When tales of the Rani are told amongst my people, they are told in fearful tones. They are more myth than truth, stories to frighten the gullible and young amongst my kind – or so I always thought." He paused and took a deep breath. " But if the stories are true, then you should know what is said  - what we may be up against. When the Rani attack, there is no warning. They never cause harm to the leviathans but they can be aboard them before they're even seen. It is said they are capable of manipulating the ships themselves, opening doors, shutting down DRDs, overriding a Pilot's control in microts. They come, they kill, they go. No warning, no resistance. They never fail."

Pilot looked up; his eyes were haunted with fear. "If that is true – if they can control Moya and override my commands – then I have no way to defend myself. I am helpless. I will have no option but to sit here in the dark and wait for my death to come."


He was terrified, Aeryn realised. Defenceless as he seemed at times, his ability to manipulate Moya and the DRDs had always given him a measure of protection. Take that away and he had nothing. He couldn't even run.


 Impulsively, Aeryn reached forward and took his face in her hands.

"Now you listen to me," she said, her voice low but determined. "You will never be in danger as long as I'm aboard this ship. The Rani can't control me. I promise you Pilot, I won't let you get hurt, by the Rani or anyone else!"

He smiled at her but it was half-hearted at best. "Thank you, Aeryn Sun. I just wish I could believe that was true."



Chiana was bored. The grey-skinned Nebari ran her fingers lazily across the controls as she gazed with a distinct lack of interest at the starry tableau displayed on the forward portal. This was a magra-farbot waste of time. She had done every scan, checked every readout and had found all of nothing. There were no Rani. There wasn't anything but the commerce planet, almost a solar day's travel ahead. All around them were the stars and the empty void of space, no threat to anyone, let alone Moya. She was beginning to think that the beacon was a hoax or out of date, that the Rani – if they even existed – had long ago left the area. Was there any point in her even being up there? She had better things to do than reassure the nerves of a paranoid pilot!


 With a huffy sigh, she glanced down at the controls and stared in disbelief.


 The docking bay door was open.


"What the frell?" The Nebari exclaimed. She scrambled up from her slouch, hitting the console with rapid fingers to double check the reading. There had to be a mistake! But instead, her check only told her it was true. Moya was open to space.

"Pilot, why'd you open the hanger?" she called out, turning quickly to the clamshell.

There was no response.

"Pilot!" she shouted again. Fear was rising inside of her chest. Again, her plea was met with silence. The imager stayed dark, reflecting the ominous edge that had fallen over the command. She noticed for the first time that the lights had dimmed and Moya's sounds had become oddly hushed. Chiana took a deep breath. This was not good.


 She reached for her comm. "D'Argo? Aeryn? Crichton?" A low hiss was her only answer. "Zhaan? Rygel? Anyone!" A note of panic slipped into her voice as she frantically tapped at her unresponsive communicator. A flash on the console caught her eye; she turned and stared, her breath catching in her throat. Something – no, several somethings – had alighted in the docking bay.


 The Nebari knew better than to hesitate. Abandoning her post, she snatched a pulse rifle from the strategy table and bolted into the corridor. All around her, Moya's lights began to pulse and flicker, her regular, familiar rhythms fluctuating wildly. Chiana felt alarmed and very alone. What the frell was happening? Were they under attack, being boarded? Was it Rani, Peacekeeper, Nebari? Did the others even know? Were they even still alive?


Breathing hard, grey skin beaded with sweat, she flung herself around a corner and collided head on with someone solid. Both tumbled to the ground in a heap of arms and legs, a flash of pale skin and black leather. The rifle went flying – struggling free, Chiana scrambled for it desperately. She would not be taken! A hand gripped at her wrist; she panicked and kicked out instinctively and with a great deal of force. Her foot met bone with a crunch.

"Owww! Hey, Pip, take it easy! Where's the fire?"


 At the familiar voice, Chiana felt a wash of relief. She scrambled to her feet, scooping up her rifle and turned to face her ship mate.

"John! Thank frell!" The words came out in a garbled rush. "The comms are down and there's someone in the Docking bay! I called Pilot but he didn't answer! I think we're being boarded!"

John came straight to his feet, limping slightly as he gingerly rubbed his shin.

"How the Hell did they get on board without being detected?"

"I don't know! They just appeared out of nowhere!"


Heavy footsteps sounded behind them; Nebari and Human wheeled as one, weapons extended. D'Argo stared at them, hesitating a moment as they lowered their guns with a joint sigh of relief, before striding imperiously over.

"What the frell is going on?" he demanded, towering over his ship-mates. "What's wrong with the comms? And why are you two so nervous?"

"Chi thinks we've been boarded." John set out at a fast walk. Chiana and D'Argo exchanged a glance and fell in behind him.

"Rani?" D'Argo asked brusquely. He was already reaching for his Qualta blade.

"Could be. If it is, they'll be heading for Pilot's. D'Argo, you get down to his chamber, protect him from these lunatics. Pip, you're with me. Lets go check out what we're dealing with."


  It was the sounds that first alerted Zhaan to the fact something was wrong. She had spent the last few arns in her apothecary in the Maintenance bay, sorting her dwindling selection of herbs and making a mental list of what she needed to search for on the commerce planet. Her Gosh'cha berries were getting a little low and she needed some more Ya-xni'al oil. That wasn't going to be easy to find….


 A whirring noise interrupted her train of thought. She looked up in confusion and glanced around. There was no one there but her. The whirring got louder, closer – it sounded like the wings of a giant insect. Then came a loud clank and a buzz. The Delvian stared. The noise was coming from the other side of the hanger door!


 By the Goddess! It was a ship landing!


Alarmed, she reached for her comm.

"Pilot, are you there?"

There was no answer. The device hissed spitefully, turning back her pleas. Beyond the door, she could hear the whispered hum of voices.


There was no time to seek help. Zhaan hurried over to the work bench where one of Aeryn's pulse rifles lay. The Priestess snatched it up and ducked behind the bench bracing the gun before her as she pointed the muzzle at the sealed entry, readying herself for what might come. She would not let Moya be boarded. They would not pass her!


  She was therefore totally unprepared when the sharp sting of a needle dug into her neck and everything went dark.



 Lightning pulsed through her dreams, snatching her to wakefulness. Exhausted after her long watch and her conversation with Pilot, Aeryn had retreated to her quarters and, pausing only to remove her boots and pistol holster, had collapsed on the bed and slept. But the flash against her eyelids caused the Peacekeeper to jerk awake with a start, realising after a moment that it was not weather or weapons fire that had alarmed her but the flickering of Moya's lights. She gazed around, briefly disorientated, her dark hair in disarray as she noted the pulsing lights and unusual sounds and rhythms that had changed the leviathan's song. The air pressed heavily down on her; the feeling of wrongness was palpable. She knew at once what was happening. The stories were true – without warning, as the legends told, the Rani had come to liberate their god.

"Pilot? Can you hear me? John? D'Argo? Is anyone there?"


 The comm hissed, indifferent to her calls. Aeryn felt a chill run down her spine. It was happening just as Pilot had feared it would. She was alone and in the dark.


 And so was Pilot.


She had to reach him. He was their target. They would care nothing for the crew. They had a job to do, a parasite to kill. And to do that, they would make sure he was defenceless and isolated.


 The Sebacean vaulted out of bed, dragged on her boots, snatched up her pulse pistol and raced into the corridor. She wouldn't let this happen! She had promised!


Devastation littered the maintenance bay. Zhaan's carefully stored collection of herbs and potions had been smashed to smithereens, a rainbow arch of shattered glass and coloured liquid that trickled lazily across the floor. The work bench had been toppled, the rifles and pistols lain on it ripped apart with disturbing ferocity, their pieces scattered far and wide. John and Chiana paused in the doorway, their eyes wide in shock at what lay before them. What kind of people would do this?

"I think we have a direct hit on the maintenance bay by Hurricane Rani," John muttered under his breath. He took a step forward, his boot crunching on broken glass and skidding slightly.

"You think it's the Rani?" Chiana followed him reluctantly, her eyes darting nervously from corner to corner. "Why would they do this? I though they were just out for Pilot!"

"Yeah, and they want an easy ride." He pointed with the barrel of his gun. "Take out the guns. No protection. Take out the medicines. No fixing the damage."

  He took another step forward when something caught his eye, a pool of deepest blue amidst the coloured lake of broken vials.

"Aw, Hell!" He rushed forward, Chiana a step behind. Zhaan lay immobile on the floor. Quickly John knelt at her side, checking her vital signs as best he could, not entirely certain where the vitals of a sentient plant would be.

"Is she dead?" Chiana's voice had a shrill pitch.

"I don't think so." John leaned forward, examining the Pa'us neck. A small red mark blemished the blue skin. A bad feeling had lodged in his chest. How had they got on board so easily?

"They didn't just take our medicine, they took our healer too." He rose quickly. " Pip, you stay here, guard Zhaan. I gotta get to the Den."


He turned on his heel, pistol braced, just in time to see the door the maintenance bay slam shut.

 For a moment, John could only stare in shock. But then he bolted across the room, slipping and sliding on the wreckage as he scrambled to the exit. He banged at the lock but it didn't respond. He pushed up against the door with all his might but it moved not an inch. He felt his heart drop as he glanced around. Chiana had already bounded across the room to the hanger door but found that was sealed as well. The Nebari's dark eyes met John's; both realised what had happened. Zhaan had been bait; the trigger had sprung. They were trapped.



When D'Argo reached the Den, he found the entrance was sealed tight. He stabbed at the lock for a moment but it stubbornly refused to release. The Luxan paused, drinking in the situation. It was possible that Pilot had sealed the doors himself when he detected the invasion, thinking to protect himself from what might come. But then a flicker of yellow caught his eye; a pair of DRDs sitting at the corner. Both were still and lifeless.


 "Pilot?" D'Argo roared. "Pilot, are you all right?"

There was no answer. The warrior pressed one ear to the door, listening carefully but he could hear nothing but Moya's irregular pulsing.

"Frell!" His patience evaporated. D'Argo braced his Qualta blade and began hacking angrily at the lock, tentacles flailing mace like around his head. But his effort proved fruitless. Exhausted, the Luxan paused. This was getting him nowhere. He needed a saw.


But even as he turned, Aeryn appeared at a run around the corner, pulse pistol gripped in her fist. She spotted him at the same instant and skidded to a halt.

"What's happening?" she gasped. "Is Pilot all right?"

"I don't know. The door has been sealed somehow." D'Argo moved towards her, casting around the corridor. He didn't know what was happening behind that door, but he was certain it wasn't good. They had to get inside.

"We need something to cut…" he began but Aeryn interrupted sharply.

"We don't have time for that!" She grabbed his arm and half-dragged the big Luxan up the corridor. "There's another way in! Come on!"


  Aeryn breathed hard, as much from anxiety as exhaustion, as she led D'Argo down the dark, slender passageway that wound along the outer wall of Pilot's chamber. She was more afraid than she cared to admit. It was not the thought of a fight that worried – she was a peacekeeper, born to fight, trained for combat in such a way it became almost a pleasure. No, what frightened her was what they might find had happened beyond the scant inches of the wall beside her. Images danced in her head, Pilot hurt, Pilot dead, the Rani laughing and taunting her for her inability to defend her friends. She didn't even know what the Rani looked like, but in her minds eye they grew to monstrous size, fanged and clawed, howling ravenous, merciless monsters. Angrily she shook the image away, berating herself for being absurd. But still, they were an unknown. And they had power here. They had got aboard Moya undetected, moved unhindered through her passageways and entered Pilot's chamber unresisted, despite the army of DRDs he had surrounded himself with. She had no doubt that they were in there. A part of her mind argued that she was overreacting that Pilot himself had sealed the door to prevent any assault but deep inside, she knew this wasn't so. She couldn't explain her conviction – perhaps the small part of her that was Pilot made her sensitive to his peril – but nonetheless she was certain that despite all their precautions and her promise to keep him safe, Pilot was now in the hands of the Rani.


Ahead, a small grill opened out onto the vaulted chamber. Aeryn paused, keeping back out of any possible line of sight, and listened. Below there were footsteps, movement, a clinking that she couldn't identify and the low growl of unfamiliar voices. The peacekeeper tensed. Her instincts had been proved right. But this was one occasion she would have liked to have been wrong.

"Rani," D'Argo's low voice contained an unmistakable menace. He took a tighter grip on his Qualta blade, his eyes burning fiercely. "They will pay for this intrusion!"

"Let's hope that's all they have to pay for."  Aeryn tried to keep the anxiety out of her voice and she braced her pulse pistol. Sweat ran in her eyes – angrily she brushed it out of the way. Her heart was pounding in her ears, an unwelcome distraction that hindered her concentration. Let him be all right! She whispered silently. Don't let me be too late! I promised him!

"I don't hear Pilot," D'Argo whispered grimly.

Aeryn nodded. "That's what worries me. Come on."


She motioned him closer with a jerk of her head. Silently she ducked down, slinking beneath the grate to rise, back to the wall on the far side.  The two warriors paused; their eyes met. Then slowly, cautiously, they peered down into the chamber and felt their blood run cold.

  The reason was Pilot's silence was immediately apparent; a large vicious looking gag had been looped tightly around the lower protrusions of his carapace to dig deep into his mouth. His four arms had been chained securely to the columns that enveloped his consoles against which indignity he continued to struggle vainly. A trickle of purple blood ran down the side of his face, evidence that he had not submitted easily, backed up by the fact that several of his captors were sporting and impressive array of fresh bruises.


The Rani themselves milled about him amid clusters of lifeless DRDs. They were a tall race, with vivid scarlet hair and orange-red skin, their mouths protruding like the muzzle of a cat.  They stood in a disinterested ring, casually holding their strange weapons, small rifle like devices, loaded up to fire sharp needles, watching their captive almost clinically. Two of them knelt on his consoles, one holding his head firmly still, the other kneeling back as he tapped at a large syringe-like gun filled with an angry red liquid. Pilot was watching them as best he could, his expression furious, but his eyes, Aeryn realised, were filled with a  terrible fear.


The peacekeeper felt a rush of relief. He was still alive. That was something. But she didn't fancy the odds. A quick count told her that twelve Rani stood scattered around the chamber. An apprehension that was almost fear like rose within her.


 But then her eyes were drawn back to Pilot and she felt her fear ebb away, to be replaced by a burning anger. How dare they treat her friend that way? How dare they?


With an indifference that was almost studied, the Rani with the syringe-gun turned and leaned forward, the point of the needle arcing dangerously towards Pilot's neck. Pilot tried to pull back but the second Rani gripped his head sharply and held him ruthlessly in place.


 Aeryn didn't hesitate. Shouting in fury, she kicked down the grate and let lose her anger in a haze of pulse fire.



Silence filled the maintenance bay. John sat wearily, back against the toppled work bench as he rested his head in his hands, muttering over and over again at his own stupidity. Beside him Zhaan was a blue shadow, still unconscious from the effects of the Rani drug. A clatter and shrill squeal of frustration came from the direction of the door – Chiana had spent the entire of however long they'd been there attacking the lock with whatever she could find, entirely without success. The thief had not taken their incarceration well; in a burst of fury, she sent the useless tool flying across the room to bounce off the equally immovable hanger. With a huff, the young Nebari folded her arms and slumped to the floor, her back against the door, her expression a mix of the same frustration and anger that currently resided in John.

"So what now?"

John looked at the grey-skinned adolescent with weary eyes.

"I dunno Pip. Any bright ideas?"

"From her? You'll be waiting a while! You two should try using your brains for once!"


John and Chiana started as one, astonishment written on their features as a nearby vent grate clattered to the floor. A small green face peered out, with a distinctly smug expression.

"But, oh no, as usual, it's up to me to save the day!"

"Guido!" John exclaimed, scrambling to his feet. "I never thought I'd ever be this happy to see you!"

"Way to go, Ryge!" Chiana had already hurried over. She knelt and examined the vent. Almost at once her face fell.

"This frelling's hole's too small! We can't get out this way!" She reached out and clouted Rygel across the head. "Thanks for nothing, slug boy!"

  John had joined her, his eyes thoughtful. "Not so hasty, Pip. Hey spanky, does this vent lead out into the corridor?"

"Yes. Why?"

"Any chance you could open the door?"

"What's in it for me?"

"Rygel!" John and Chiana shouted as one and the Hynerian drew back.

"All right, all right, I'll do it! But remember, you two owe me!"

With that, the tiny green dominar withdrew and vanished back into the darkness. Chiana watched him go with an expression of distaste.

"Little toad!" she muttered.

John placed a hand on her shoulder. "Leave him be. If he can break us out, I ain't complaining. I've had enough of Leviathan Alcatraz for one day."


He stood and walked away staring at the wall. Hurry it up, Sparky! He thought to himself. Hell knows what's going on out there!



The needle dart whistled past, missing her ear by inches. Aeryn twisted, dodged and opened fire, felling her assailant in a haze of pulse fire. Behind her, she could hear D'Argo, roaring in anger as he laid about him with his Qualta blade, but she had no time to turn and check on his progress. Three Rani were down already – the two who had been closest to Pilot, felled by her initial volley and the third she had taken out moments before. Glancing back, she saw D'Argo add two more to their tally, as a sweeping blow from his sword sent a pair of crimson heads tumbling into the void. Aeryn barely had time to note their passing, her breath coming in short gasps as the adrenalin of combat set her veins on fire. Beyond the red haze of Rani faces, she caught a glimpse of Pilot, his orange eyes wide with a strange combination of fear and hope. But then he was gone, lost behind a looming assailant. Aeryn blocked his blow with her arm, ducked under and swept his legs from under him, sending him tumbling off the walkway into oblivion. A companion rushed to avenge him but Aeryn knocked his gun aside almost contemptuously, grabbing his arm as she hauled him into range of her fist.

"Aeryn! Look out!"


 D'Argo's warning saved her life. The hiss of the needle gun was all but obscured by the roar of combat but Aeryn was trained to react with lightning speed. Viciously she gripped her opponent, swinging him round and pulling him up to shield her from the fire. He took a direct hit to the chest, staring down in disbelief at the protuberance of needles before slumping unconscious to the walkway.

  The peacekeeper wheeled in search of new targets. There had been twelve; eight were dead. By the door, D'Argo was fighting hand to hand with three of them and despite the odds, appeared to have the upper hand. Aeryn started over, intent on aiding him when something made her pause. A sudden inexplicable apprehension filled her.


Where was the fourth?


  The rattle of chains sent her spinning to face the Den. The elusive Rani froze, a night hunter caught in the light, startled. He was half across the console, moving towards the struggling Pilot. In his hand, he held the syringe-gun.


An angry red haze showered Aeryn's vision. Her pulse pistol snapped up almost of it's own accord, her finger half-squeezed on the trigger….


Strong arms gripped her around the neck  and arm; her shot went wide. One of the Rani fighting D'Argo had broken clear, and seeing her intent had pounced from behind. The peacekeeper ripped his hand away from her throat, jamming her elbow hard into his ribs, before bringing up her pistoled fist into his face. Ahead, she could see his companion, on the move once more as he advanced on Pilot. Aeryn didn't know what the angry substance in the syringe-gun was but of one thing she was certain; it could not be good. Desperately she fought to break clear, to get a clean shot but the Rani warrior was infuriatingly persistent, grappling for her gun as he grasped her hair and tried to drag her back. She screamed in frustration and she tried to get free off his hold but she couldn't and found herself left with no option but to watch helplessly as the other Rani yanked Pilot's head back with one hand, bracing the syringe-gun against his neck with the other. For an instant, Pilot's eyes met hers, filled with an almost plaintive fear. He knew what was coming and Aeryn knew it too but neither could do anything to stop it.


 The needle plunged into his skin. A moment later, the syringe was empty.


The world seemed to freeze, to hang in that terrible instant forever. A chilling numbness filled Aeryn's body. For a moment, she seemed to float in an unreal world, away from her body and emotions. But then the burning fire of fury swept through her like a storm. She heard herself screaming as she snatched her hand free, reality moving in a strange and vivid slow motion as she swivelled and slammed the flat of her hand into her attackers face. He staggered back, stumbling over his unconscious counterpart and she followed up quickly with a devastating kick that sent him sailing down into the darkness. She twisted, pulse pistol raised and fixed upon the Rani with the empty syringe-gun, who gazed at the dark haired wrath before him with fearful eyes. He had no time to dodge. Her blast sent him flying backwards to collapse lifeless in a smoking heap.


 And suddenly time snapped back into normality and she was standing amidst her fallen assailants, pulse pistol in hand, shaking uncontrollably as she stared at Pilot. Behind her. D'Argo had put an end to the last of his attackers and stood a little way back, his face filled with concern as he saw the navigator. Pilot was slumped forward weakly, his eyes bright with pain and eyelids fluttering. The stab from the needle was bleeding softly but of greater concern were the strange streaks of red that fanned out from the wound.


Aeryn rushed forward, discarding her pistol in her haste as she scrambled onto the console and knelt beside her friend, ripping away the gag and cradling his huge head gently in her arms. His breathing was ragged and shallow, his eyes now closed. D'Argo appeared beside her, hacking away the restrictive chains with his Qualta blade, before kneeling quickly beside her. In one hand, he held the empty syringe-gun.

"What was that?" he said, staring at Pilot with fear and concern.


  Aeryn felt cold all over. How could this be happening? I promised him! I promised! She couldn't think, couldn't do anything but repeat those words in her head. This isn't real! It can't be!


 D'Argo noticed her distraction.

"Aeryn, are you all right?" He received no answer. "Aeryn!"


 He caught her shoulder and the dark-haired Sebacean looked up, shrugging out of his grip.

"I'm fine," she snapped, her mind suddenly clear. "But I'm not the one we need to worry about here!" She met his eyes fiercely. "You have to find Zhaan, bring her here, now! If this is poison, she could be his only hope!"

She glared as he hesitated. "Move it, D'Argo!"


 With a last glance at Pilot, the Luxan vaulted down and vanished across the walkway. Aeryn stared after him for a moment, then turned her attention back to Pilot.

  He was looking up at her, pain etched across his features.

"Aeryn." he gasped weakly. "I feel…."

"I know." She rested her head against his. "Don't talk. Save your strength. You'll be fine, just focus, try to stay with me. Zhaan's on her way."

Pilot nodded weakly. He shifted his head and winced.

"Don't move!" she admonished sharply. He looked up at her and tried to smile.

"You've been a good friend, Aeryn," he said softly. "To me and to Moya. Thank you for trying to help me."


 Aeryn felt numb – she could barely speak.

"I told you not to talk," she managed, looking away to hide the glistening tears that welled up in her eyes.


 Zhaan, where are you?