Time and Again – Part Four.
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. No naughtiness (sorry shippers) but there are a few fights.
Spoilers; Nothing major. References to TWWW.
Timeframe; Season two, between DALD and OOTM.
Summary: With only one chance left to save Pilot, Aeryn must make a terrible decision.
Recap: Moya was boarded by a race with a vendetta against Pilot's species. Despite the efforts of Aeryn and D'Argo, he was poisoned and left facing a long and painful death. Afraid, he pleaded with Aeryn to help him die more quickly. Despite her own reluctance to relive her past, Aeryn did as he asked. Consumed by guilt she fled the ship, where a priest offered her three chances to go back in time and live the day again. Her first attempt failed badly but on her second she managed to chase the Rani off the ship, only to be knocked unconscious by the wing of their fleeing vessel…
The pounding of her head penetrated the rainbow grey of unconsciousness, dragging her back into herself. Her face throbbed without mercy; her neck felt as though it had been snapped in two. She groaned.
"Aeryn? Honey, can you hear me?"
A shadow fell across her eyelids; a warm hand surrounded hers. Reluctantly, tenderly, she opened her eyes to stare deep into Johns.
His face was a wash of relief – he didn't look as though he'd slept in arns. He was holding her hand, smiling like an idiot as he gazed down at her in eyes bloodshot and emotional.
"Thank God!" he breathed with a heartfelt sigh. "For a while there, I thought I'd lost you baby!"
She blinked; even that slight motion hurt.
"John," she said. She couldn't seem to focus her thoughts, the pain a barrier to memory and reason. There was something she was supposed to be doing but for the life of her, she couldn't recall what it was. She glanced groggily around. She was in the maintenance bay, or what was left of it after the fight, laid out on a bench under a gold sheet. Her face was incredibly sore and pounded painfully beneath a heavy swath of bandage; it felt as though half her skull had caved in. She reached up and touched the cloth covering tenderly, wincing at the little explosions of agony that even that slight contact caused.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you." John gripped her fingers and gently eased them away. "Zhaan says you did some serious damage up there. She told me to make sure you leave it alone until she got back from the commerce planet with the right medicines." He grinned. "Whatever possessed you to do a kamikaze run and head butt their ship? I know your head is hard, Aeryn, but my money's on the sheet metal every time!"
She wasn't listening. Something he had said had struck a chord in her memory.
"Commerce planet?" Her elusive purpose flitted through her mind but was gone before she could catch it.
"Yeah, the one we were heading for. You've been out for most of the day."
"Most of the day?" A cold feeling settled in her chest, a contrast to the heat of her wounded face. She knew this was bad. But why? Why was it?
The familiar voice made her heart stop. John turned away, still holding her hand, to face the clamshell in the corner.
The imager shimmered to life; the purple hologram gazed down at them.
"Zhaan reports she has found the necessary ingredients and is returning to Moya. She wants an update on Aeryn's condition."
Memories rushed through her; all at once the floodgates breached and everything came back. She pushed up onto her elbows, her eyes fixed on the gleaming silver-red of the amulet.
Frell! How long had she been unconscious? How long did she have to confirm the timeline?
"Hey, now wait a microt, miss Sun!" John laid his free hand on her shoulder. "You lie back down there. You're in no condition to be up and about!"
She ignored him, turning to the clamshell.
"Officer Sun," Pilot acknowledged. "How are you feeling?"
"Never mind me, Pilot. Are you all right?"
He looked confused. "Pardon?"
"Are you all right?" she repeated impatiently.
"I am fine," he answered, obviously perplexed. "Is there any reason I would not be?"
John caught her gaze. "They never got passed the maintenance bay, thanks to you. By the way, I meant to ask; how did you know they were coming?"
She didn't hear him, her mind racing. Pilot was alive, the Rani gone. She had done it! But it would all be for nothing if she didn't get back to the temple and confirm the changes to the timeline.
"Pilot, how long has it been since the Rani tried to board?" she exclaimed, sitting up as she brushed aside John's efforts to make her lie back down.
"Um… a little more than twenty-three arns," Pilot looked concerned. "Officer Sun, are you…"
"Is my Prowler ready for launch?" she cut in, moving to climb down from the bench. John immediately stepped in.
"Your Prowler? Are you nuts? Aeryn, you were out cold for the best part of a day! You're in no condition to go joyriding!"
He grabbed her shoulders and she winced. Guiltily he released his grip and that instant was enough. He never saw the pantak jab coming. She caught him as he fell and laid him gently on the floor.
"I'm sorry, John," she whispered. She rose quickly to face the astonished Pilot.
She gazed at him with pleading eyes. Without his help, she would not be leaving Moya. Ironically, he could be the greatest hindrance to her saving his life.
"I can't explain now but I will later. You have no idea how much is at stake here." She swallowed his emotions, desperate for him to agree.
"Pilot," she said. "Please."
He sighed but then nodded. "The Prowler is primed and ready. Take care. Your health is not good."
She smiled in sheer relief. "Thank you, Pilot."
It took her a matter of microts to board her ship. Pilot continued to co-operate, opening the hanger door. In moments she was free and flying. Space hurtled by on either side, the stars streaks of silver that reminded her of the timestream. The planet filled her view screen – she cut down through the atmosphere like a knife, slicing her way towards the surface and the temple city. Towers and columns appeared below, a sprawl of white and silver. She swooped in low, ignoring all beacons on air traffic zones, skimming over the rooftops of the city as tiny figures beneath her gaped at her audacity. The plaza opened out before her; she wheeled in, silver figures scattering from her path as the Prowler touched down gently. She blew the hatch, her blood running pain like fire through her veins, her head screaming louder even than the voices of protest of the priests. She ignored them all, pushing free of the indignant crowd, her eyes fixed on the temple of the Order of Temparis. The amulet pulsed on her wrist, a silent warning; she could feel the timeline starting to disintegrate around her. She forced her agonised body to a desperate run, pushing herself to the outer limits of her pain. She reached the steps, clearing three at a time as she scrambled desperately to get inside. Ahead of her, his eyes fixed on the amulet, she caught a glimpse of Jaul.
Then silver streaks split the air; the world seemed to crumble, to disintegrate around her. She felt her spirit yanked away as the timeline dissolved. She screamed in raw frustration.
Silver overwhelmed her eyes….
The familiar hum of the timestream filled her ears. From beyond the glistening curtain, Jaul stared at her.
"Oh, dear," he said quietly.
Aeryn's expression was anguished. "I was so close! I was on the steps! I could see you! I saved him and I blew it, I made one stupid mistake…"
"Now, now!" Jaul stepped in quickly, saving her from further self-recrimination.
"You still have one chance left. Learn from your mistakes! Use them to make this time work! I'll send you back to the same instant as before. Use your time wisely." He smiled. "I hope for your sake that the next time we meet, I do not know you. Farewell and good luck, my dear."
She nodded even as she braced herself. Last chance. She knew what to do now and what definitely not to. This time, she would succeed.
The timestream rose and swept her on her way…
For the fourth time in as many days, Aeryn awoke with a start. But this time she was ready for the feeling, brushing the dizziness and disorientation aside. In microts she was upright, quickly taking in Moya's regular rhythms and stable lights. Her pulse pistol slotted into her hand as easily as it always did, the fingers of her other hand already pressed to the comm as she dashed from the room.
"Pilot, seal of the docking bay and lock your chamber! John, D'Argo, Chiana meet me outside the maintenance bay! Zhaan, get out of there! We're about to be boarded!"
Once again, there came a flurry of questions but once again, they were cut off sharply as the snakes hiss that denoted the arrival of the Rani rose to fill her ears. The lights dimmed and flickered; Moya's sounds began their unnerving transformation. Aeryn observed it all, so familiar, seen and experienced so many times before but now for what would be the final time.
Last chance, Aeryn Sun. Don't waste it.
This time the appearance of John, Chiana and D'Argo came as no surprise. She didn't even slow her pace as she swept past them.
"Come on!" she ordered. "We don't have much time!"
"Aeryn, what…" John called out, following in spite of his confusion, but she cut him off.
"No time, John." She glanced back over her shoulder. "Don't ask how I know. Please, just trust me."
He was at her side, matching her stride for stride, pulse pistol held ready.
"With my life," he replied softly. "You say go; I go."
Despite all that was happening, all that lay ahead, all that lay behind, Aeryn couldn't keep herself from smiling.
Suddenly, from ahead, came the sound of pulse fire. Exchanging, a single glance, John and Aeryn sprinted down the corridor, D'Argo and Chiana at their heels. Zhaan appeared abruptly, backing down the corridor away from the maintenance bay, pulse rifle humming in her hands. Needle darts split the air around her; how she avoided being struck was a mystery. She glimpsed her shipmates and dropped back rapidly, gasping for air.
"They came out of nowhere!" she exclaimed. "If you hadn't warned me, Aeryn…"
There was no time for further talk. A squad of crimson Rani appeared abruptly from the corridor, needle guns braced and loaded.
"Back!" Aeryn roared and the others obeyed, ducking for cover behind the struts of Moya's passage way, D'Argo and Chiana on the far side, John and Zhaan with Aeryn on the near.
"Don't let the needles touch you!" Aeryn shouted across; she saw D'Argo nod as he quickly converted his Qualta blade from sword to rifle. John was crouched ahead of her, already laying down fire as the Rani themselves retreated and made for cover a little way down the corridor. Aeryn caught a glimpse of more than a dozen faces, several ominously familiar. It was odd to find herself fighting against people she'd killed three times already.
Then suddenly, chillingly, she caught a glimpse of one face in particular, a smaller Rani, more senior, clinical and cold. He was casting glances back behind him, down the corridor into the dark beyond. The syringe-gun was nestled in his hands.
Aeryn went cold. Too late, she realised she had erred again. By falling back the way she had come, she had given the Rani free reign in the other direction; the direction of Pilot's chamber. They had no hindrance to reaching him and worse; they were between him and any protection. Already, she could see a group of Rani gathering to the rear, looking to make a break in the direction of their prey.
She had to act and act now. There was no going forward; there were too many Rani and a frontal assault would only push them closer to Pilot. She needed to go around then, to cut across and stop them before they got to close. She glanced behind her to where Zhaan was kneeling – beside the Delvian was the entrance to an inner passage, a passage that if Aeryn recalled correctly, came out not far from Pilot's.
She knew then what she had to do. The Rani were gathering – she didn't have long. What did she have to work with? John and Zhaan. Well, they would have to do. She glanced almost plaintively across at D'Argo – she would have liked the big Luxan by her side but there was no way he could cross the corridor without serious risk to his life. She had seen him die once. She had no desire to see it again.
Abruptly, she rose to a half-crouch.
"D'Argo, Chiana!" she shouted. "Hold them!"
She saw the Luxan nod and turned her attention to John and Zhaan.
"We have to get between them and Pilot!" she exclaimed, gesturing to the entry. Zhaan took her meaning at once and quickly ducked inside. John looked confused for a moment but on seeing the Delvian disappear, he nodded his consent. Silently, he mouthed a three count. Then together, the human and the Sebacean came up firing and dropped back, dodging needles as they slipped out of sight.
The passage was dark and sinister, indistinguishable from a thousand others all over Moya but Aeryn led the way with confidence. If there was one thing she knew, it was her way around Moya. Whether it was her peacekeeper experience or Pilot's DNA, she had never been entirely sure, but she suspected it was both. Whatever its origin, it was coming in useful now.
The opening loomed ahead. Aeryn halted, raising her hand for silence. Ahead, beyond the wall, came the guttural sound of Rani voices. With a jerk of her head, she started forward, pulse pistol extended. A crimson Rani wandered into her line of sight, glancing over his shoulder as he beckoned his companions.
It was the last thing he ever did. Aeryn opened fire and he dropped like a stone, tumbling to the floor before his astonished companions. The peacekeeper leapt into the corridor, John a step behind, laying down a haze of fire that forced their enemies back. Caught totally by surprise, they were pinned down at the corner before they even knew what had happened. Aeryn felt an exultant buzz. This time she would not fail!
"Aeryn!" Zhaan's sharp exclamation jerked her to attention. "Look!"
She was pointing behind them. Aeryn turned her head to follow her gaze and felt her blood turn to ice.
A crimson figure was bolting down the corridor behind them. The syringe-gun was gripped in his hand.
Aeryn realised at once what had happened. Her victim had not been the vanguard but the second. By the time she had reached the corridor, one had passed her already.
"Cover me!" she shouted. She spun on her heel and raced after him, pulse pistol humming in her hand. She fired constantly on the fleeing Rani, but he was nimble and quick, dodging her shots and staying just too far ahead. He was making a beeline for Pilot's chamber. Aeryn's superior knowledge of the ship gave her nothing – he was equally well versed in leviathan schematics and besides they were too close to Pilot's now for any short cut to be effective. She wished she could warn Pilot somehow, give him a chance to be ready and defend himself but the comms were still no more than an evil hiss. She just prayed he would be strong enough to hold the Rani off until she was able to catch up.
The entrance to the Den appeared ahead, ringed by a sea of twitching yellow DRDs. The Rani raised his free hand out before him – in it he held the small, black device that Aeryn had seen him use before. Is that how they manipulate Moya? She wondered. An instant later, she had an answer. The device flashed and all at once, the DRDs shut down en masse, bereft of life by a single click. The door lock released and swung open, pushing motionless droids from its path. The Rani vaulted over them and darted inside.
"Pilot, hold on!" Aeryn yelled at the top of her lungs. She was gasping for breath, her legs wobbling beneath her but she couldn't stop now, couldn't even slow. She cleared the DRDs in a single bound and rushed inside, gun outstretched. The Rani had just reached the console and was starting to climb towards an alarmed but angry Pilot. Aeryn's warning shot caused the alien to turn and Pilot took advantage of his distraction, sending him flying backwards with a well-aimed sweep of an arm. The Rani regained his footing quickly and turned to face Aeryn, a grim expression on his face. Aeryn levelled her gun at him, finger itching on the trigger.
"Drop your weapon NOW!!!" she roared. He didn't deserve this chance really, but he was still in close proximity to Pilot and she wanted that syringe-gun out of harm's way and destroyed. But the Rani made no move to drop it.
Instead, he smiled.
The black device flashed.
Her pulse pistol exploded.
If her reactions had been any slower, she would have been killed. But the telltale hum as the pulse chamber slipped into overload gave her a fractions warning and she flung the gun away from her just in time. The explosion lit up the chamber, brightening the dark void below. Behind her, a series of smaller explosions followed as several of the more heavily armed DRDs ignited as well. Her gun hadn't been the only casualty.
For a moment she was blinded by the flash, frozen in shock and in that moment, the Rani made his move. He wheeled around and scrambled onto Pilot's console, lunging for the navigator. Aeryn's vision cleared; she heard Pilot cry out as she saw what was happening. The peacekeeper wasn't having that. She dashed across the walkway even as Pilot, in last-ditch struggle, shoved his attacker back. She grabbed him by the shoulders and hauled him to the ground but he reacted instantly with a slamming blow that sent her flying onto her back. Lights danced before her eyes; she lay, half-stunned, dark hair streaming like a waterfall over the gaping drop below. The Rani wheeled with astonishing speed, looming over her like a shadow of deepest night. There was a click; a long blade sprung from his wrist guard, glinting wicked red in the light from Pilot's consoles. Smiling with malicious triumph, he raised his hand to strike.
But then he lurched, staggering forward as Pilot's claw contacted solidly with his shoulder blades.
In his instant of distraction, Aeryn's head cleared. With lightning speed, she wrapped her legs around his knees and twisted hard, cleaving him sideways with all her might. His balance already failing, the Rani lost it entirely. Syringe-gun and black device tumbled from his grasp; with a scream, he dived headfirst into the abyss and vanished from sight.
There was a long moment of silence. Aeryn lay breathless on the floor, staring into the dark above her, barely able to believe what had just happened. Had she actually done it this time?
Pilot's voice echoed above her. It made her smile. She pushed herself up onto her elbows, hauling her reluctant body to its feet. She forced herself to calm down, biting back a rising euphoria. She had believed the day won before. Nothing could be taking for granted.
"I'm fine, Pilot," she said, brushing her hair out of her face. She turned to face him.
He was watching her with those deep orange eyes, purple feature filled with a mixture of gratitude and relief.
"Thank you," he said with a slight smile. "You saved my life, Aeryn."
"And you saved mine." Aeryn leaned on the console, reaching out to place a hand on one of his claws. "Thank you!" She smiled broadly. "I always said we worked
His smile spread, responding to the light in her face. Suddenly, he jerked to attention, arms skimming over his controls as his consoles burst to life.
"I have control back!" he exclaimed. He tapped quickly at the panels. "I am dispatching my DRDs to assist the others!"
Aeryn realised what had happened – the control device had been smashed by the fall. She paused thoughtfully, counting quietly to herself the length of time between her tripping the Rani and his impacting the bottom. She raised an eyebrow. It really was quite some way down. She thought about her own close call with that pit and shivered.
"The Rani are falling back," Pilot reported, breaking her reverie. "Their ship is powering to leave."
This time she couldn't keep down the euphoria. It bubbled to the surface in her smile. Pilot was safe, the Rani in retreat. All she had to do was reach the planet!
But she forced herself to be calm again. Thinking like that was asking for trouble. She would do best going to see what was happening for herself.
"I'd better go help." Aeryn reached for her pulse pistol before belatedly remembering its fate. Absently, she wondered why the Rani hadn't used the device against their weapons before. But then she remembered the destruction of the DRDs. The device was indiscriminate. Most likely it would have destroyed the Rani needle guns as well.
She started onto the walkway. "You'll be all right?" she called back.
"Of course," he replied confidently. "I have my DRDs back now." He paused. "And I know you'll always come if I need you."
She hesitated and smiled back at him, thinking even as she did so that he didn't know how true that was.
"Set course for the commerce planet, maximum speed," she ordered quickly. "And prime my Prowler. I have a task to complete."
He looked perplexed, but she had not expected any different. Smiling in satisfaction, she turned and strode from the room.
The moment she entered the maintenance bay, Aeryn knew something was wrong. An unnatural silence hung in the air, so loud as to be deafening. Rani bodies lay scattered around by the bay itself was surprisingly in order; her prompt actions had prevented the destruction of previous timelines. The Rani were gone, chased off the ship, their murderous mission a failure, but yet a strange pall hung over the atmosphere, a reek of death and failure. Aeryn slowed as she entered the bay, her euphoria dropping like a stone. What was wrong?
Chiana and D'Argo were standing nearby; they regarded her with apprehension. But there was more to their expression too; a fearful sorrow shrouded them. She met D'Argo's gaze, a question in her eyes, but he looked away. Chiana wouldn't even look at her. Even Rygel, who had apparently only just emerged from hiding, looked downcast. He regarded her warily and shot a glance across the room.
She followed his eyes and found Zhaan. The Delvian was crouched near the hanger door, her features filled with deep concern. She glanced up and saw Aeryn. Their eyes connected, the priestess passing to her both sorrow and sympathy. The peacekeeper, already concerned felt a cold fear well up inside. Sudden apprehension gripped her heart. Where was John?
Then she saw him.
He was lying on the floor beside Zhaan. His face was a deathly pale mask, his eyes closed. His jacket was riddled with needles. Blood trickled down the ivory skin of his arm.
Oh frell, no!
She rushed to her side, barely able to breathe. "What happened?" she demanded. He wasn't moving. She could see no movement in his chest.
"Is he dead?"
Zhaan shook her head. "Not yet. He was lucky."
Aeryn stared at the Delvian in disbelief. "You call this lucky?"
"Compared to the alternative, yes! The needles never pierced the leather but one scratched the skin of his arm. The dose was not quite enough to be instantly fatal."
Aeryn's world was reeling. How could this be happening? She felt sick, dizzy, as the shocking implications of this development hit home. She found herself facing a terrible choice.
Who would she let live?
Pilot or John?
In her hands, she held the lives of the two people she cared most about. What should she do? Confirm the timeline and risk losing John or let it collapse and sacrifice Pilot?
She took several deep breaths, the ice in her soul threatening to drag her down. She forced herself to try and calm down. All was not lost yet; John was still alive. Quickly, she turned to Zhaan.
"Will he survive? Can you save him?"
The Delvian frowned. "I can't be certain. Luckily my medicines weren't damaged in the attack and the commerce planet is near at hand. I can cleanse the wound. But then it is down to him. Whether he lives or dies will depend on his strength." She sighed and met Aeryn's anxious gaze. "Only time will tell."
The irony of that statement was not lost on Aeryn. But she strove to push back the panic rising in her mind. She still had most of the day before she had to make a choice. John was strong. He would come round before then.
Or so she hoped.
Because she had no idea what to do if he didn't.
With D'Argo's help, John was laid gently on the bench by the apothecary, covered by a golden blanket as he fought with the poison that sought to steal away his life and Aeryn's world. She stayed by his side, holding his hand as he had held hers, a day – or a timeline – before. She watched him sleep, drinking in his strong features, desperately trying to decide what the frell she was going to do if he didn't come round. One thing she was certain of; if this day did not end with all her friends healthy around her, she intended to make it her life's mission to wipe out every Rani in the galaxy. The thought of losing John made her spirit quail; but hadn't she lost him anyway? If time reverted to its old order, she would never be able to see him again.
But he'd be alive.
And Pilot wouldn't.
Silently she screamed in frustration. Why did this have to happen now, when she could do nothing about it? How could she possibly play God with the lives of her two best friends?
She slept for a while, knowing she must. Zhaan dropped by frequently, checking his vital signs, changing his bandage, but she said nothing, the silence lingering like a pall. The others did not appear at all. Pilot spoke to her once, his image flickering in the clamshell and heightening her anxiety as he inquired after Crichton's condition. His concern for her was touching; he made certain she was all right, offered himself to listen if she needed to talk and left her a DRD for company. All in all, it only made her dilemma worse.
Time slid by with worrying speed. At her request, Pilot provided regular updates on their proximity to Jaul's planet and she kept a careful mental countdown of my time she had left. The more time passed, the further she got from any kind of choice. She felt despair. What the frell was she going to do? She was getting perilously close to her self-designated cut off point and she still hadn't the faintest idea whether she was going to stay or go. The amulet glimmered on her arm, mocking her. With a sigh of frustration, she laid her head down against John's chest and closed her eyes.
She jerked upright all at once, swinging to face John. His blue eyes blinked and then opened groggily. He smiled weakly.
"Looking good, babe!" he said hoarsely. "How's life at the OK Corral?"
"John!" she exclaimed joyfully. Zhaan, who had just entered, came rushing over. She smiled down at the woozy human as she checked him over efficiently.
"I think the worst has passed," she told them both with a smile.
Aeryn felt her heart leap. Maybe it would be all right after all!
"He'll live now?" she asked quickly.
"Course I'll live!" he retorted. "You don't get rid of me that easy!"
She bit back a grin but ignored him in favour of a more professional opinion.
The Delvian nodded. "He'll be fine."
That was all she needed to hear.
"Pilot, is my Prowler ready?"
"Ready and waiting, Officer Sun."
She vaulted from her seat, leaned quickly over and kissed John on the forehead. Ignoring his amazement, she turned and rushed across to where her dark Prowler was waiting. The Human and the Delvian stared after her in confusion.
"Where are you going?" Zhaan called out, her voice uncomprehending.
Aeryn was already in the cockpit. "The planet!" she answered briskly.
The peacekeeper graced them with an enigmatic smile.
"To make this real!"
The Prowlers engines fired. In moments, she had plunged out into space.
The plaza was as bustling as it always was and her arrival caused a similar stir. The jet Prowler touched down almost delicately, alighting in a sea of silver faces that stared at her as one. The priesthood milled about, uncertain what to make of this invasion but they staggered back as the hatch blew and a dark figure bolted from within and leapt to the ground, her eyes fixed on the timekeeping device atop the temple of the Order of Temparis.
She didn't have much time.
Aeryn set out at a sprint across the vast stone square, declaring her feelings on the architect who surrounded the temple with trees that hindered her landing closer in less than flattering tones. She pushed her way roughly through the crowd of indignant priests, ignoring their cries of protest, consumed by issues much more pressing. The temple steps opened out before her; she bolted up them three at a time. At the head of the steps she spotted Jaul. There was no recognition in his face but his eyes fixed upon the amulet on her wrist and all at once he was clearing a path for her, ordering people aside. She shot him a brief look of gratitude as she hurtled passed and caught of glimpse of his replying smile. But then he was lost behind her as she rushed though the door and down into the halls, the tiles pounding beneath her feet as she sprinted for the altar. Silver streaks teased the corners of her eyes; she could feel the beginnings of disintegration. She doubled her pace, frantic, boosted by a surge of adrenalin that raced through her veins, erasing her tiredness and pain with a single burst of raw energy. She vaulted the altar with a distinct lack of respect as the silver streaks increased, became more pronounced, her vision wobbling as the air started to dissolve. She knew her time was almost gone but she didn't care.
She would not fail, not now not this close! She would not fail!
In a last burst of energy, she ripped the curtain aside, stumbling into the room. The timestream glittered before her, a tantalising enticement to a better life and she flung herself for it, slapping her hand against the red jewel as silver rose around her. The crystal dissolved with agonising slowness; she could feel the world collapsing.
In her last desperate wisp of time, she thrust her amuleted arm into the timestream.
Silver overwhelmed her vision – for a moment she was lost, floating in that silver ethereal netherworld of raw time. She didn't know if she'd succeeded or not – she couldn't see Jaul, couldn't see anything. Her memory seemed to take fire, racing again through the events of the last day in a loop that seemed somehow never-ending. For a terrifying instant, she thought she would be trapped forever.
But then the silver dissolved, spun away – there was a flash and a strange rush. She felt the pressure of the amulet on her arm release and she was thrust back, stumbling, blinded and exhausted into the real world.
But which real world?
Strong arms caught her. Her vision was still hazy, filled with sparkly dots but beyond them she could see Jaul smiling down at her. The loosened amulet fell from her wrist, tumbling to the ground with a clatter. She felt light-headed and very tired but her mind was still spinning in a haze of activity, one question repeating over and over in her mind.
Which timeline was this?
She rose slowly, supported by Jaul. Her whole body felt as though it had been squeezed through a wringer. She managed to keep her footing although only just; three days worth of spent energy had finally caught up with her system. Slowly, tentatively, she turned to face Jaul, searching his face, desperate for what she would find there but at the same time fearing it.
His face was joyous. There was no recognition.
Hope welled up inside of her.
"Congratulations," Jaul said softly, sincerely. "Your new past is secured."
She felt as though she was floating, as though every weight that had ever been had lifted from her shoulders. She could barely believe it was true. Not long ago, in a world that no longer existed, she had felt as though her life had ended. Now she felt as though it had begun anew. He would never forget the horrors of the last few days but at least she could truly put them behind her.
"Thank you, Jaul," she said sincerely. "You'll never know just how much you've done for me. I shall be forever in your debt."
He smiled. "This is always a strange moment," he commented. "I only feel I know those who fail. Those who succeed are a mystery to me and yet I still feel joy for them."
"And so you should," Aeryn placed a hand on his shoulder. "You have a wonderful gift to give. I am honoured you considered it worthy of me."
Smiling, she turned to leave, but Jaul called out to her.
She turned to find him holding out the amulet.
"This is yours to keep," he told her. "It will replay for you're the memories of your altered past. We give it to our successful travellers as a reminder; to be sure they never forget how precious their time is and to use it wisely."
She took the amulet from his outstretched hands.
"I'll remember that," she said.
Life aboard Moya soon returned to normal. John was up and about in a few solar days, as healthy and cheerful as ever. They took on plenty of supplies at Jaul's planet – enough even to satisfy Rygel – and left it two days later, departing from Rani territory not long after. They were not attacked again.
Aeryn's mysterious foreknowledge of the invasion and her mysterious disappearance afterwards had led to her being subjected to a deluge of questions on her return. She brushed most of them off, attributing her early alarm to intuition, and her later departure to a sudden desire for fresh air. No one really believed her but once it became clear that she had no intention of giving them an honest answer, they gave up asking and the incident was slowly forgotten.
She was careful to hide the amulet. Chiana had shown a distinct interest in it on her return from the planet and knowing the Nebari thief's penchant for acquiring things that were not strictly speaking hers, she had Pilot store it away on a distant tier where Chiana was unlikely to get her hands on it. Pilot asked no questions, much to her relief. He accepted what she said and left it at that.
It was on a quiet morning about a weeken later that Aeryn unexpectedly found herself outside Pilot's chamber. She had been wandering at random, eager to escape the attentions of the others and had been musing on her strange experience without paying too much attention to her surroundings. When she looked up, she was therefore surprised to discover herself at the door to the Den. She hesitated a moment – for reasons she couldn't explain even to herself, she had been avoiding coming down here- but then something ran through her mind, a word Jaul had used.
She hit the lock.
Pilot looked up and smiled shyly as she entered.
"Officer Sun," he greeted. "What brings you here?"
"I'm not sure," Aeryn answered honestly as she pulled herself up beside him. It felt a little strange. Her mind kept skipping back to that awful instant, the pain in his eyes, the plea, the pulling of the trigger. She forced herself to remember that as far as everyone else was concerned, those events had never happened. Things were better that way.
She looked at him, healthy, content and suddenly knew why she had come.
"I just wanted to see you," she said.
He smiled again. "I'm flattered."
She laughed and pushed his arm.
"Don't be silly!" she told him.
He looked at her intently. "I wasn't."
There was a pause. Aeryn reached forward and placed a hand against his carapace.
"Thank you," she said.
"I should be thanking you," he replied. "You made a promise and you kept it. I am very grateful for that."
She felt strangely touched. She thought back through all the trouble, through the horror and distress and realised just how much her friendship with this strange creature meant to her. He had been the first person she'd really been able to talk to, the only one apart from Crichton during those early day who didn't judge her on her peacekeeper past. She had a life here now on Moya and friends, good friends, who relied upon her as much as she relied upon them. For the first time in her life, she had a home.
Pilot was watching her. "I really did not think you would be able to keep that promise, you know," he commented. "It cannot have been easy for you."
Aeryn met her friend's eyes, smiling ruefully.
"You have no idea," she said.