In The Flesh – Part Six.
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 email@example.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; Mild ones only. Reference to OOTM, LATP, TWWW and DMS. There are also mild spoilers for my previous fic, Time and Again.
Timeframe; Season two, after LATP. This story assumes the events of Time and Again occurred, though it's not vital to have read it first.
Summary: Trapped in Aeryn's body, Pilot must save the day when Moya is taken over by pirates.
Note: This is a sort of follow-up to the events of OOTM. Although I love that episode, I always though it was a shame they didn't do more with it, especially as regards to Pilot. I would have liked to see him leave his chamber and what his reaction to that would have been. It occurred to me that if he was in Aeryn, he might not have any problems moving around, since her body contains some of his DNA. I also thought it might be good to get Moya involved in the body swapping, however peripherally. This story is a result of those thoughts.
Recap: Moya has been taken over by pirates using the salvaged Halos 1. As a result of their attack, Aeryn and Pilot have switched bodies, as have Chiana and Moya, putting the lives of both in serious jeopardy. The rest of the crew, unaffected, have been taken captive by the pirates and are being held in command. Pilot, the only member of the crew still at large, has discovered the Rani device and managed to restore its functions, using it to manipulate Moya's unconscious body. After a dangerous plan to eliminate some of the pirates barely suceeds, Pilot must now make his way to command and somehow free the others before Moya and Chiana are lost entirely…
The corridor was dark; silence hung in the air like a menacing pall. In the command, all was quiet and still. Even the light seemed diminished, smaller somehow, shrunk into insignificance in the face of the advancing darkness. The faces around him were statuesque – the five prisoners, huddled in their alcove, watching the entrance with wide eyes for signs of life and his own men, the two remaining guards, faceless, blank but strangely apprehensive and Grajul the tech, cowering nervously over his devices as he tried and failed to bring the leviathan's systems back on line. The suddenness of the unexpected attack had shocked them all and left Jak more than a little confused. He had assumed the displaced Pilot would be a passive creature who would stay out of his way, not an aggressor starting a fight. A glance at the prisoners during the assault had confirmed this view; they were obviously astonished by this out of character audacity. So what did it all mean? There was only one thing it could mean as far as Jak was concerned.
The Pilot was up to something.
When the violence of weapons fire and the cries of his men had faded into the black beyond, Jak had taken a moment to examine the incident. A quick mental recounting had revealed something he had initially missed – the Pilot's bad aim. It had only struck a target once and that had not been serious – the casualty was more angry than hurt and had moved quickly in pursuit. This could simply be because of its inexperience in this body but Jak didn't buy that for a moment. A creature with the mental precision and navigational skills to fly a being such as a leviathan should not have any problem striking a mark. Which meant it must have missed on purpose. But why?
Jak felt himself go cold as the answer came. The cunning jeebo!
He had drawn them out on purpose.
The attack was not a genuine assault at all; it was nothing more than a cheap distraction, intended to anger his men into pursuit. And it had worked like a charm. Silently Jak cursed his own stupidity. Once out there in the dark labyrinth of the leviathan's insides, the Pilot would have the advantage. It could pick his men off one by one, confuse them, lose them and double back to…
Jak shot a glance at the pale grey Nebari whose closed eyes hide the deep blue of a leviathan soul. It knew. It had to. And it had deliberately lessened the number of enemies it would have to get passed in order to retrieve its precious partner. Jak had to admire its strategy – it was worthy of a Taurax. So now what should he do? His men had been gone a long time and Jak was doubtful they would be returning any time in the near future – the Pilot would see to that. It could be on its way back to the command already; it might have even arrived. It could be watching. Quietly, subtly the pirate swept the edges of the command with his eyes. He saw no movement in the alcoves; the vents were dark and still. He frowned to himself. Could he have been mistaken?
But then something caught his eye; a sliver of movement just above his head. He risked a casual glance and caught a glimpse of a dark shadowy shape flitting through the vaults and cables of the ceiling. He felt eyes on him, but he didn't meet them, concealing his knowledge behind a casual smile. So it was there. It was watching.
Let it watch.
He needed to regain the advantage. At the moment, the Pilot was in control, watching, waiting for its moment to strike. He had to disrupt that calm, give it something to think about, get it to play it's hand before it was ready and blank itself out of the game. He had to break it.
And he knew exactly how to do it.
John could barely contain himself. What the Hell was Pilot thinking?
There had been no reason for that attack. None at all. It was pointless, only serving to antagonise the enemy and reveal his presence to them. And it was so out of character! Pilot was not a violent creature by nature – true he had issued several nasty bruises with those claws of his in his time but that was merely in self-defence. So why in God's name had he suddenly decided to make an all out attack on pirate central? What had he possibly hoped to gain apart from a quick glimpse of Moya and a rapid trip into the afterlife?
Moya. John sighed to himself. Maybe that was it. Pilot had been known to behave irrationally in times of extreme stress – perhaps this was symptomatic of the same thing. Disconnected from Moya, cut of from the crew, alone for the first time in cycles in a body he barely knew – it was enough to send the most emotionally controlled person kooky and as Pilot had demonstrated in that business with Aeryn and the tape, under that calm visage, he was really not all that stable. Perhaps the attack had been sheer desperation, a furious, impulsive attempt to get closer to Moya, brought on by the mental instability of a multi-tasking brain trapped in a Sebacean form. John felt cold inside at the prospect. If Pilot really had cracked, then it didn't bode well for any of them. He was liable to get himself killed – and take the rest of them with him.
He shot a quick glance at Zhaan who was tending to Moya, a concerned look on her azure face. The leviathan had noticeably deteriorated in the last half arn – her breathing was shallow, her pulse dangerously faint as she slipped in and out of consciousness. Under her breath, she continued to mutter inaudibly, tossing her head and flickering her eyelids to reveal little flashes of sapphire blue light. The Delvian caught his eyes and her expression was tellingly grim. If they didn't act soon, they were going to lose her.
At least D'Argo had come round. The big Luxan had struggled back to full consciousness just before Pilot's unexpected appearance. Zhaan had quickly explained the situation to him and ever since, he had been sat, leaning gently against the golden bulkhead, staring at the ceiling. Nothing was said, but he was clearly thinking of Chiana.
D'Argo's revival gave John hope. With the Luxan back on form, it gave them a chance at an escape. Much as he hated to admit it, Pilot's assault had done one beneficial thing – it had reduced the number of guards they would have to deal with in order to get free. Now the human was thinking hard, considering his next move. It would be best to act before the others came back, obviously. Maybe if they could take them by surprise.
The thought broke off. A shadow fell across them all; the two guards parted and wheeled to face them, guns trained on their heads. Into the gap sauntered the smirking form of Jak. He ran his eyes across their faces, drinking in the confusion, the anger and the fear he found there and his grin spread.
"Having a good time?" he drawled.
D'Argo fixed him with an icy glare – John could tell his tongue was twitching. But Jak merely smiled further.
"Keep your mouth closed, Luxan," he said jovially. "Your tongue would look impressive in my trophy chamber – and I don't need the rest of your head intact to retrieve it." He ignored the low growl that issued from D'Argo's throat and turned to John and Zhaan. "Your little friend doesn't look well," he commented with mock concern, features drawn in an artful parody of sympathy. "Maybe she needs more help than you can offer." He grinned mirthlessly. "She'd better come with me!"
He snapped his fingers and his men reacted instantly. One guard lunged forward, shoving Zhaan forcefully into John as he shoved his rifle into the face of D'Argo. His companion darted forward and swept up the limp Nebari form, lifting her from the ground and carrying her quickly from the alcove. John let out a yell and surged to his feet, rushing at Jak with murder in his eyes but the pirate was ready; with a smug grin, he swept his fist into his face. John reeled back, blood pouring from his nose as he collided with Zhaan and D'Argo, both of whom had been crowding to his aid. The three collapsed in a heap beside the wide eyed and cowering Rygel as the last remaining guard stepped abruptly into place, rifle trained on them all.
"Nobody tries that again," he drawled.
John ignored him, stumbling to his feet. He half considered a rush but the raised rifle of the pirate advised him better. Ignoring the blank face of his captor, he peered passed him, eyes fixed on Jak and Moya. Behind him, he felt Zhaan and D'Argo at his shoulder, their gazes also locked on the scene unfolding beyond their reach.
Jak's guard had carried the Nebari across the command, dumping her half-dead form on the strategy table. With a flick of his hand Jak motioned the guard to one side, grasping the grey wrists of his weakly struggling captive and pushing her backwards. Moya kicked and twisted but she simply did not have the strength necessary to get free. She turned her face away, crying out her mysterious word over and over in despair as Jak pressed her down forcefully, his expression fixed with a cold smirk.
"Leave her alone!" Zhaan's voice cut through the air angrily. The Delvian had half-stepped forward, only to have the muzzle of the gun shoved into her stomach. She defiantly ignored it.
"What kind of animal are you?" she almost screamed. The guard pushed her back roughly but the priestess was not to be silenced. "Assaulting the defenceless! Is that how you get your power? You're pathetic!"
John could his blood boiling. He exchanged a quick glance with D'Argo; there was fire in the Luxan's eyes. The guard was distracted by Zhaan; this could be their moment. Silently he mouthed a count. Three, two, one…
"Get your hands off her!!!"
A bolt of scarlet energy seared the air, colliding into the strategy table with a shocking bang. Even as Jak jumped back in apparent shock, releasing Moya who rolled from the table and vanished underneath, a dark figure dropped from the vaults of the ceiling, a black silhouette lost in the shadows just outside the ball of light. A pair pale of hands swept into view, wrapped around the handle of a jet pulse pistol. The barrel was trained on Jak. The hands were shaking with fury.
Jak's guard had leapt to attention, rifle half-cocked but Jak waylaid him with a gesture. He turned slowly, his eyes fixed on the shadowy figure before him. A slow smile spread across his face.
"I've been waiting for you," he said.
"Sorry to have kept you," The voice was unmistakably Aeryn's but there was something about the way she spoke that told John all was not right. The words seemed brash enough, but they lacked the edge of confidence with which Aeryn would have made such a statement. The gun was still aimed fairly and squarely between Jak's eyes, but the manner of the double handed grip looked uncomfortable – almost as though the fingers had had to be forced into place. John sighed. In Pilot's case, they probably had been.
Jak's eyes never left his opponent. "Are you just going to point that thing or are you going to shoot it?" he commented dryly. He took a step forward. "I haven't got all day, you know."
"Don't move!" Pilot ordered but there was a noticeable lack of conviction in the way he spoke. Jak took another step and he shifted his grip on the gun. "I mean it! I will kill you!"
Jak shook his head, his smile spreading. Like John, he had clearly caught the hysterical edge to the voice. Despite the fact Pilot held the gun, Jak held the upper hand.
Dammit, Pilot, shoot the bastard! John thought to himself, wishing heartily he were telepathic. Why the frell is he hesitating?
Jak took another step. "You won't fire that gun. It's not in your nature." The smile never left his face. "Now why don't you give that thing to me and scuttle back into the dark where you belong?"
"I am a peacekeeper!" Aeryn's voice surged from the darkness. For a moment, John could have almost believed it was her. "I could kill you where you stand!"
Abruptly Pilot stepped into the pool of light, Aeryn's pale but set features washed in suddenly in yellow. John had to say, he looked awful. Aeryn's usually immaculate dark hair was a tangled mess, sculpted into a bizarre series of solid loops by what looked like dried amnexus fluid. Aeryn's pale arms were torn and scratched, her clothing was dirty. But as John stared at her face, he caught sight of Aeryn's eyes – or what had been Aeryn's eyes. Instead of the familiar blue, the eyes were burning like two golden suns, miniature replicas of Pilot's real eyes, left behind in the switch. Behind him, John heard Zhaan gasp as she noticed the same thing. John guessed at once what had happened; the dormant pilot DNA in Aeryn's body had found a new lease of life. Quietly John swore to himself. When Aeryn saw what Pilot had done to her body, she was going to freak!
Pilot's golden eyes had fixed on Jak. He was braced and tense, Aeryn's features solidly determined, but there was an edge of doubt lurking behind the confident front. John could sense his uncertainty and he knew Jak could sense it too.
Would Pilot be able to fire?
"I know who you are," Jak was watching his would-be assailant with an expression of wry humour. "Your little friends over there let it slip. You are no peacekeeper." His smile was predatory. "You are nothing more than a displaced Pilot."
Pilot's expression visibly slipped. His eyes widened; his mouth slipped half-open. He looked shocked. John felt much the same way himself. How the frell could Jak have gotten that information? There was no way he could have overheard that conversation….
Unless he'd bugged them.
John cursed his own stupidity. Of course he would have bugged them! Prisoners were unlikely to divulge important information willingly. And now they had given Jak just the edge he needed.
The pirate was smiling confidently. "I know of your species," he said, his voice a model of calm, almost soothing rationality. "I know you do not believe in the use of violence against other beings." He began to walk forward slowly, advancing on Pilot with one hand outstretched. Pilot's confident front seemed to have dissolved with his exposure; his hands had lowered slightly, and he was biting his lip, clearly nervous and uncertain of how to act.
"You are who you are no matter what form you wear. Your race choose those who are to be Pilot's for their placid nature." Jak continued, suddenly the voice of reason.
"Would you betray the tenets of your people?"
That clearly struck a nerve; Pilot's less than straightforward history related to his bonding had made him almost obsessive about doing things properly. Aeryn's shoulders dropped; the gun began to sag. A shiver seemed to run through his borrowed form; suddenly he seemed almost hesitant and very much over his head. Jak was only yards away – one hand reached forward, hovering tantalisingly over the barrel of the gun.
"You won't shoot me. So why don't you stop pretending and give me that gun."
"Pilot, shoot him!" D'Argo's powerful voice echoed across the command. Pilot cast an almost plaintive glance at the Luxan; he obviously had no idea what to do. John gritted his teeth.
"Pilot, SHOOT!!!" he shouted at the top of his lungs, trying to make it less advice and more an order. But it was no use. It was already too late.
Jak's hand closed around the gun. He tugged sharply and Pilot's fingers released all at once. The displaced navigator barely seemed to comprehend what had just happened; he staggered back wide eyed as Jak smirked at him, bouncing Aeryn's gun in one hand, shaking his head in amusement.
"You fool!" he said laughing out loud as he tossed his head back. "You utter fool!"
Slumping against the bulkhead, John had to agree. They were screwed, their last chance at a rescue shot to Hell because Pilot had lost his nerve. Damn!
Jak was laughing his head off. Pilot looked distinctly intimidated. He started to back away but the jerk of a rifle from Jak's guard stayed him in his tracks. Jak himself had begun sauntering in circles around the command, waving the pulse pistol mockingly by its barrel.
"That was too easy!" he crowed, wheeling to face his shocked and humiliated foe.
"You pilots have got to be one of the stupidest species around!"
Pilot's jaw tensed angrily but he did not rise to the bait. Jak didn't seem to care, too caught up in relishing in his victory.
"And to think I was worried about you! I thought you might hinder my plans! And what do I find? A pathetic, gullible excuse for a life form! Did you really think a worthless navigator who's spent the last frig knows how long sitting on its backside in the same room could take on the might of Jak Cordak? Ha!"
John glanced at Pilot, aware of just how tetchy he could be about personal abuse. The navigator stood frozen in position, eyes burning intensely, expression set. He was watching Jak wheeling around the command with the intensity of a hunting hawk. One hand had come to rest gently against his hip and abruptly his fingers seemed to jerk; John caught a flash of something black but it was lost as Pilot palmed it quickly. To John's astonishment, a flash of satisfaction seemed to flicker across his face. The human shot a glance at Zhaan who tilted her head quizzically – she had seen it to. John suddenly got the distinct impression that Pilot was up to something.
"Chosen ones indeed!" Jak had come to a halt beside Grajul the tech and his guard, by the forward portal, well away from both the limp form of Moya and his cornered prisoners. He wheeled to face Pilot, his face spilt by a huge mocking grin. "If you're an example of a chosen one, I'd hate to meet a reject!"
And then Pilot smiled. Somehow he managed to imbue easily as much menace into the expression as Jak.
"You already have!" he said too sweetly. "I was never chosen!"
His hand flashed up, the black device extended. Eyes alight, he pointed it at Jak and pressed down.
The pulse pistol exploded.
The command shook with the shock of the blast. Jak, Grajul and one of the guards were hurled to the ground by a ball of crimson light, with barely time to scream. The second guard stumbled back with a cry as his rifle fizzled with yellow energy – D'Argo reacted instantly to his distraction, his tongue slashing out like a whip. The guard's knees buckled and he slumped unconscious to the ground.
There was a moment of utter silence. John, Zhaan, D'Argo and Rygel had been protected from the blast by the shelter of the alcove; Moya had been safely cocooned under the strategy table. The four pirates lay motionless on the floor, three of them blackened and burned by the explosion. Jak had been holding the gun at the time of ignition – his hand and lower arm were in shreds and his face was scarred and raw. His eyes were open but there was no consciousness behind them. John grinned in spite of himself. Bastard's not smiling any more!
One person who was smiling, however was Pilot. The navigator surveyed the carnage with something almost akin to satisfaction.
"That'll teach him to underestimate my species!" he said smugly.
A cry from Moya arrested the attention of all. The displaced leviathan was huddled in a ball under the strategy table, her borrowed Nebari features filled with fear. She called out her mysterious word once more, eyes fixed on the tattered Sebacean standing in the middle of the chamber. Pilot was across the command in microts, crouching beside her and murmuring reassuringly in his own language. Whether or not Moya understood what he was saying, John was never sure, but she had obviously recognised him for her features filled with relief and she buried her head into Aeryn's shoulder. Pilot dropped to his knees, wrapping his arms around her as he cooed reassuringly.
Exchanging a glance with John, Zhaan hurried across the room to their side. D'Argo, ignoring Rygel's protest at being left on foot and alone, abandoned the alcove that had so long been their prison and moved to examine the unconscious forms of the pirates. John paused, exchanging a smile with the Luxan as he hovered over Jak with a menacing grin, lofting the Qualta blade he had just retrieved from a pile of confiscated items, then went to crouch beside Zhaan.
"You guys okay?" he asked.
Pilot glanced at him and nodded. "We'll be fine. Moya is just a little stressed. She needs time to calm down."
"You understand what's she's saying?"
Pilot shrugged. "Of course not. She hasn't said anything. I can feel her emotions."
"Actually, she has been saying something. The same word over and over again. We didn't have a clue what it meant though. Maybe she was just rambling."
Pilot looked curious. "What word was that?"
John tried to pronounce it but his tongue issued a flat refusal. "I can't say it," he confessed. "But it was the same one she said a microt ago when she called out to you. You know what it means?"
John rolled his eyes. "You gonna tell me?"
"If you want."
The human glared. "Well? I'm dying of curiosity!"
"I think that's an exaggeration."
"All right!" The navigator looked up, his expression strangely wistful. "It's my name. My real name."
"That's your name? That?" John tried to say it again and once more, he failed miserably. "I've sneezed more pronounceable names than yours!"
Pilot shrugged again. "Why do you think I'm just called Pilot?"
John sighed. "I will never understand you. Just when I think I've got you figured out, you trip me up again! I mean, what the Hell was going on with Jak? Why didn't you just shoot him?"
Pilot looked at Crichton as though he was a child. "Because his men would have shot me! I had to take them all out at once or not at all." He shifted his grip on Moya and held up the Rani device. "I found this on the lower tiers. It belonged to the Rani. They used it to manipulate Moya's body. It was broken but I fixed it so it would activate minimal functions and ignite proximate pulse chambers. But I didn't realise the pirates had electro-rifles – I'm not sure even they did. When I found out my device would only short their guns and not knock them out, I knew I wouldn't be able to act from a distance any more. I had to get involved and get them in proximity to something that would ignite."
"Like a pulse pistol," Zhaan intervened.
John stared. "You let him take the gun on purpose?"
Pilot raised an eyebrow. "Well of course! You don't think I'd be so stupid as to surrender my only means of defence without a reason, do you?"
"I…" John suddenly found himself at a loss for words. He sighed, fixing Pilot with a rueful grin.
"I feel like I owe you an apology," he said.
Pilot looked at him quizzically. "For what?"
John glanced away awkwardly. "Well, when I found out our lives were in your hands, instead of Aeryn's, I have to admit, I was apprehensive. And then we heard you getting upset over the comms and then that stupid attack – why the Hell did you do that anyway? – and then you giving Jak your gun, I… well… I thought for sure you'd cracked!"
Pilot smiled. "I did, a little. But cracks can heal, commander."
"I see that." John reached out and patted him on the shoulder. He grinned suddenly.
"Boy, can you act!" he exclaimed. "You had me fooled! I'm not sure I'll ever be able to believe a word you say again!"
Pilot looked up. "I hope you believe this. We have to act quickly. There are more pirates at large on this ship and even more on the Mot-Halos. We will need control of both ships if we are to save Moya and Chiana."
John met his eyes, disconcerting as they were in Aeryn's face. "You got a plan?"
Pilot nodded. "Aeryn has already started on it. We need to get to my chamber, but we have to careful. There are patrols on the lower tiers and Aeryn is being guarded."
"Roger that." John wandered over to the guard D'Argo had floored and quickly palmed his rifle. "Well I'm ready!" he exclaimed. "I've been looking forward to this all day!"
Pilot smiled. Zhaan had already come to his side. Gently, albeit with noticeable reluctance, Pilot released Moya and handed her into Zhaan's welcoming arms. D'Argo strode over to the corner where Grajul the tech had dumped the confiscated goods and yanked free Rygel's Thronesled. The tiny dominar gave a cry of joy as he waddled over and almost snatched it from the Luxan's hands, settling into plan with a wide, comfortable grin. Zhaan rose, holding the limp Nebari form with care. Pilot, John noted stayed solicitously at her side.
The five exchanged sudden grins. Then together, they abandoned the command and set out to take their ship back.
"Why do I have to be the frelling distraction?"
D'Argo rolled his eyes. After several arns trapped in a confined space with Rygel, he had had more than enough of the Hynerian's whining.
"Because I say so!" he said with menace, towering over the deposed dominar.
John was a little more diplomatic. "Sparky, we've been through this. Zhaan has to stay with Moya and Pilot's exhausted. Me and D'Argo are the only two around here who are ready to kick ass, but we can't do that until someone brings us some ass to kick!"
"I won't do it!" Rygel moved to turn his thronesled, but D'Argo grabbed it's back, hauling the Hynerian unwillingly back into the huddle. Rygel fixed the Luxan with an icy glare.
"It's undignified! I am a Hynerian dominar, not a target!"
John leaned forward, sweeping a friendly arm across Rygel's small green shoulders. "Come on, Buckwheat! You the one who's always saying you're a dominar of action! Here's your chance to prove it!"
Pilot stepped forward. Aeryn's features looked washed out and pale; the legs of his Sebacean form were trembling. The strains of the last few arns had begun to catch up with him. Despite this, he managed to draw himself up.
"I can do it, commander. I'm not really that tired and…."
"No, Pilot!" John cut him off. "You ain't tired. You're whacked! Beat up! You need a break. Take a look at yourself! You can hardly walk! No, you've done more than enough already. It's Sparky's turn to make himself useful for once!"
"For once!" Rygel hovered forward indignantly. "I resent that…"
But he got no further. D'Argo's waning patience eclipsed entirely. He lunged forward, grabbed the squealing Hynerian by his tunic front and hoisted him into the air.
"Shut up!" he bellowed. "I am sick of the sound of your whining little voice! Either you help us now or I flush your worthless form into space!"
Rygel choked. "You wouldn't dare!"
"Wouldn't I?" D'Argo wheeled on Pilot. "Pilot, where's the nearest airlock?"
"Actually there is one not far from here," Pilot replied with clinical detachment, but John got the impression he was fighting amusement. "I could show you…"
"All right, all right, you heartless probaktos! I'll do it! I'll frelling do it! Just let me go!" Rygel was kicking his legs in the air frantically. Abruptly D'Argo released him and he tumbled back into his thronesled with a thump. He grumbled to himself for a moment, adjusting his position and glaring at D'Argo with towering resentment. Then, without a word, he turned and guided his thronesled in the direction of Pilot's chamber. John exchanged a glance with Zhaan.
"You guys be okay back here?" he asked the Delvian, who was tending to Moya with a compassionate expression. The priestess nodded.
"We'll be fine. You go and free Aeryn."
D'Argo had already set out after Rygel, his rangy strides eating into the Hynerian's lead. John grinned.
"I'd better go and play referee. I'll call when it's clear."
"Good luck, John," Zhaan replied as he turned away. "And be careful."
The human laughed. "Don't worry. Pilot said there's only two. And anyway, if we do mess up..." He broke of with a grin at Pilot. "We can always call in the cavalry!"
What the frell was taking so long?
Aeryn hated waiting. She hated anything that evolved long periods of inaction. And she was worried. Ever since Pilot's brief visit, she had been unable to take her mind off him. Just what was this great plan of his? Was there even a hope of it being successful? And how long would it be before she got some frelling answers?
She hadn't been totally inactive of course. The minimal functions Pilot had managed to restore to his console had at least given her something to do, although she would have given a lot for access to a few DRDs to send in search of the others. As requested, she had carefully sealed every duct and conduit into Pilot's chamber, despite having no idea what she was doing it for. She found herself cursing Pilot for not being more forthcoming. He could have at least given her some idea of what was going on! She was beginning to understand just why Pilot could be so tetchy sometimes about being left out of the loop. She silently resolved to keep him better informed in the future.
She glanced at Ragit and Nuin, noting with mild amusement that they looked almost as bored as her. They were probably thinking much the same things about their crewmates. Could this really get any more tedious or frustrating? Why couldn't something just happen?
The thought had barely echoed in her mind when at long last something did.
The door to the chamber swung open. In the corridor outside, Rygel hovered on his thronesled, a superior expression on his face. He was holding a small container.
"Yotzing prabaktos!" he roared at the Ragit and Nuin who had stumbled to their feet in astonishment. "Take this!"
He hurled the container with all his might. His aim was exceptional considering the size of his arms. It struck Nuin across the face, shattering on impact to smother the pirate with what looked and smelt remarkably like Zhaan's bio-paste. The guard staggered back with a gasp, retching at the smell.
"Ha!" Rygel exclaimed. "What do you have to say about that?"
"You little slug!" Ragit bellowed. He grasped his rifle menacingly. Nuin was not slow to follow.
"You'll pay for that!
"You'll have to catch me first!" Rygel grinned broadly and hit a panel on his thronesled's arm. The sled shot up like a rocket an instant before the wall behind him exploded with weapons fire. Furious and impulsive, the two pirates hurled themselves forward in pursuit.
Straight into a trap.
Aeryn didn't see exactly what happened. One moment Ragit and Nuin had passed the threshold to the chamber, gazing up in the air in an effort to spot the object of their wraith. The next, they were lying in an unconscious heap on the floor. Even as Aeryn stared, D'Argo and John stepped into view, wearing matching, distinctly smug expressions.
"It's clear, guys!" John called back down the corridor. Then he turned to Aeryn and smiled cheekily.
"I hate to say this, baby, but I think you're putting on weight!"
Aeryn fought with herself, determined not to smile but relief won out over indignation.
"That isn't funny," she said.
John shrugged as he stepped over Ragit's prostrate form and entered the chamber.
"Well, funny or not, it's good to see ya," he said sincerely. He paused a moment and added. "Even if you do look weird as Hell!"
"Hey!" An indignant protest issued from the doorway as Pilot appeared in Aeryn's body, a few steps ahead of Zhaan who was carrying the prostrate form of Chiana.
"Do you mind?"
"For Aeryn! She looks weird for Aeryn!" John wheeled quickly, in an attempt to platicate Pilot but the look on his face implied there was little point. "I was just… oh never mind!" He turned back to Aeryn. "As you can see, we escaped."
"Actually," Pilot intervened as he strode across the walkway confidently. "I freed them."
Aeryn wasn't listening. She was staring at her dishevelled body with wide eyes.
"What the frell have you been doing with my body?" she exclaimed. "You look like you've fought a war! My arms are covered in scratches! And what's that in my hair?"
"Amnexus fluid." Pilot blushed slightly. "I fell down a chute into one of the pools. That's where the scratches come from too."
John snickered but quickly suppressed it on meeting Pilot's steely glare. Aeryn suddenly squinted at her still flushed face. She did not look happy.
"What is wrong with my eyes?" she asked, her voice dangerously quiet.
Pilot stopped, raising her hands. "Now that is not my fault! I think it is my DNA reacting to my presence. It should revert once we are all back in our rightful bodies."
"And if not?"
Pilot shrugged. "You will have better eyesight."
The look on her face made him pause. "I still have Cornata's formula on file," he added quickly. "I'm sure that would reverse it."
Aeryn was watching him suspiciously. "Good. Now are you going to tell me what the frell you've been doing all this time?"
"I thought that was obvious. I was freeing them!" Pilot looked mildly annoyed as he started forward again. "And it would be nice if someone around here showed a little gratitude. I haven't exactly been enjoying myself!"
"Nice work," Aeryn felt a little surge of guilt. She felt sure all that time she'd spent doubting him was written across her face and she fought a mild embarrassment.
"You're walking's improved," she commented instead.
Pilot shrugged. "I've been getting a lot of practice." He pulled himself up onto the console, examining the readouts with precision.
"Nice work yourself," he added. "You've sealed the chamber excellently." He glanced up at D'Argo. "If you could come inside now and lock the door, I would be most grateful."
Settling himself in a more convenient position, he reached out and carefully inserted the Rani device into the conduit-riddled underside of one of his control panels. Lowering it with a single touch, he turned and began adjusting a variety of systems. Aeryn watched him curiously and not without apprehension.
"What are you doing?" she asked.
"Preparing to send a surge through Moya's systems," Pilot sounded as though he was reporting the weather. "If I can tap the Rani device correctly, I should be able to use the conduit junctions to electrify Moya's inner skin. That should knock out any pirates who remain unaccounted for without causing Moya, Chiana or my body any harm." He glanced up. "Does anybody know exactly how many came on board?"
"I counted twenty." D'Argo told him. "I took careful note for when we would need to break free."
Pilot did a quick count. "So that's four in command, five in the backwash chamber, three in the maintenance bay, one at the junction on the lower tiers, two out there and the one I knocked out in the neural cluster. That's sixteen, so we have four still to find. I suspect they are on the lower tiers so I will concentrate the surge there." He hit a few more controls. "Ready, everyone?"
"Whoa, whoa!" John stepped forward. "What about us?"
"I had Aeryn seal off this chamber. We'll be perfectly safe."
John was shaking his head. "Pilot, I don't know about this…"
But the navigator wasn't listening. "Electrifying now."
Moya's body shook violently; it was only D'Argo's quick reflexes that keep John from taking a nasty spill off the walkway. There was a shudder and a flash of blue light. Then everything went still.
Pilot smiled with satisfaction. "There. That should do it. It will take me awhile to adjust Moya's Starburst circuits to emit the same pulse to the Mot-Halos. I suggest you use that time to find the pirates and load them into a transport."
"You're gonna what? Pilot, things are going way too fast here! Slow down a second!"
John hurried across the walkway, his expression anxious. Beside Pilot, Aeryn looked equally concerned.
"Pilot, if you could just take the time to explain this…" she began, but Pilot cut her off.
"Time is the one thing we don't have, Officer Sun. Moya and Chiana are dying. We have to act with all possible haste." He glanced at her. "Unless you want to wait for more of my DNA to reassert itself."
Aeryn sighed. "All right. Let's do it. John, take D'Argo and Rygel and hunt down those pirates. Zhaan take Chi… Moya to her quarters and wait with her there. We'll signal when it's time."
A series of glances flurried about. But with a variety of shrugs and surprisingly little protest, the crew of Moya dispersed as ordered out of the chamber.
Due to the complexity of the adaptation of Moya's systems, it was several arns before Pilot was ready to begin his audacious assault on the pirate vessel. John and D'Argo had used the time well, loading the unconscious bodies of the pirates already accounted for into a transport pod whilst Rygel searched the lower tiers for the four still at large. He had found them easily – it appeared they had all returned to meet up with Unrar and Areni at the junction as ordered. So they to were carted up to the hanger, freeing Moya at long last of the presence of invaders.
Now all they had to do was put things right.
Their luck was in. The Mot-Halos, whether through strategy or accident, had taken up a holding position just beyond Moya's tapered rear. A few quick adjustments to Moya's orbit had been all it took to place them in a direct line of fire. Then, with the crew braced and ready to board, Pilot had triggered the pulse.
The console had exploded.
Luckily no one had been hurt, although Aeryn and Pilot had both been more than a little shocked. Closer inspection revealed the damage was not as bad as they had first feared; it was not Pilot's controls that had self-destructed but the Rani device, overloaded by the strain of a botched repair job and slightly over inflated expectation. Pilot was confident the panel was easily fixable, although he looked a little disappointed; he hoped to study the Rani device further, perhaps find out more about precisely how it worked. Aeryn said nothing, but she was obviously relieved to see it gone at last.
To the surprise of all, Pilot then discovered that the pulse had emitted after all and appeared to have had the desired effect on the crew of the Mot-Halos, although with limited functions in his console, he had a hard time being sure. John and D'Argo had immediately headed to the maintenance bay and armed themselves heavily – even Rygel acquired himself a pulse pistol. Zhaan had joined them outside the transport pod not long after, casting worried looks over her shoulder. She was no keener on leaving Moya alone than Pilot was but if this was to be successful, she had to place her where Chiana had been at the time of the switch and that meant in Chiana's cell. To position her anywhere else would put a successful reversion at risk. Cautious and well armed, the four had then boarded the pod and set out for the Mot-Halos, leaving Aeryn and Pilot alone.
For a while, nothing was said. Pilot passed the time tweaking at the damaged panel; Aeryn seemed quite content to stare off into space. In silence, they waited.
It was Aeryn who ventured the first hardy words into the quietude.
The navigator glanced up at once. "Yes, Aeryn?"
"I just wanted to say I'm sorry."
He looked puzzled. "For what?"
"For shouting at you earlier, when you got upset. You had every right to be distressed and I wasn't very tolerant."
Pilot shook Aeryn's dark head at once. "There is no need for an apology. I was being irrational. If I had been thinking straight, I would never have behaved like that. It was just…" He struggled to find words to explain that would be simple enough for the translator microbes to interpret. "It was too different," he said finally. "I do not adapt well to change. And the thought of leaving my chamber was terrifying. It is the first place in my life where I have ever really been content. I thought if I left, I would put myself in danger." He smiled wryly. "I was right."
Aeryn smiled with him. "But you handled it brilliantly."
Pilot's wry expression spread. "I would not say that."
"Well, I would. I have to admit, Pilot, after you spoke to me, I was very apprehensive. I wasn't sure you'd be able to pull a rescue of any kind off. But you proved me wrong and I'm very glad to be so!"
Pilot looked at her quizzically. "You know, Crichton said something similar up in command."
"It's not an insult," Aeryn added hastily. "I mean it in a good way."
"I know. Do not worry, Aeryn." Pilot smiled suddenly. "I have to admit there were times when I wondered myself."
"But you did well." Aeryn paused, with a mock glare. "Even if you did make a mess of my body in the process! And after all the care I took with yours! I certainly won't be lending it to you again!"
"I wouldn't want it!" Pilot responded hastily. "No offence Aeryn, but I will be quite happy if I never have to walk again!"
"Aeryn, Pilot, can you guys hear me?" John's voice crackled over the comm. Pilot leaned forward at once.
"We hear you Crichton. What is your status?"
"Your little shock worked like a charm. Every pirate on the ship is out for the count. We've unloaded our guests on their own ship and Zhaan's standing by the controls. You guys ready for this?"
Pilot glanced at Aeryn; she nodded his head decisively as she activated the carefully repowered defence screen. Smiling, Pilot turned back to the comm.
"We are ready, Crichton. Proceed."
"You got it. Powering forward cannon now. Hold onto your hats!"
Pilot settled back quickly, bracing Aeryn's body for the blast. Aeryn met his eyes.
"I can't wait to get back to normal!" she exclaimed with Pilot's voice.
Pilot nodded her head in agreement. "Me too!"
Zhaan's voice interrupted. "Firing!"
The impact was shocking. Moya shook and rolled – white light shimmered over everything. Pilot was flung forward against the console; he felt a tugging and a sharp detachment. Everything seemed to spin together, lights, sounds, noises, sweeping him up in a strange whirlpool of raw sensation. He felt himself spiral down, felt the sudden reassuring presence of his own familiar form. But them the whirlpool opened out and he was engulfed by blackness.
"Pilot, can you hear me? Pilot?"
Aeryn's strong voice was like a magnet in the dark; the blackness faded and Pilot struggled back to consciousness. Sensation returned in a rush, light, sound, feel. He became aware of his body – his body – cocooning him comfortably once more. But more importantly, he sensed Moya, her familiar presence permeating his senses like wave after wave of pure sensation. He felt her joy, her relief at being safely returned to her own form and he shared in it, laughing with her in the silence of his mind. They were themselves again! They were together!
But then reality intruded. He became aware – properly aware of his physical form. Everything seemed to ache; his whole body felt taut with tension. He got the distinct impression that Aeryn had not relaxed once the entire time she had been in there and now he was feeling the effects. He shifted himself carefully in his ring, readjusting himself to a position he felt comfortable with. He heard Aeryn's voice calling to him again and realised it was probably time to respond. Reluctantly, carefully he opened his eyes.
Aeryn's pale face filled his vision, her eyes – blue once more - filled with concern. Pilot had to admit he hadn't noticed just how tangled her once immaculate hair had become or quite how raw the skin of her arms were. She looked awful. He felt a rush of guilt.
"I did make a mess of you," he commented groggily. "Aeryn, I must apologise!"
"Forget it," Aeryn brushed him off, although Pilot was sure she would be back to have words with him about it later when she discovered the full extent of the bruising.
"How are feeling?"
"I am fine, thank you." Pilot sat up, examining his consoles with a rush of satisfaction. It was good to be home.
"Moya is very happy to be back. I have to admit to sharing her euphoria. I hope we never have to go through that again!"
"Agreed!" Aeryn smiled as she manoeuvred backwards, dropping down onto the walkway with a great deal more grace than Pilot had ever managed. "Is everything working again?"
Pilot performed a rapid diagnostic. "Moya's systems are fully functional."
"Aeryn! Pilot! Did it work?" John's voice interrupted over the speakers. Aeryn smiled and reached for her comm.
"It worked fine, John. Pilot and I are back and so is Moya. I can only assume that means Chiana is all right as well."
"It might be a good idea to check on her," D'Argo's deep voice betrayed his concern. "Just to be sure."
"I'll get right on it. Are you coming back now?"
"Try and stop us!" John replied. "And have Pilot rev up StarBurst, will ya? I want to get far away from Jak Cordak and his merry men before they come around."
"Understood." Aeryn nodded at Pilot, who immediately set to work. The Sebacean half-turned for the door, but then hesitated.
"Will you be all right?" she asked the navigator.
Pilot did not get a chance to answer.
"Ummm, guys?" Chiana's disorientated voice drifted over from the doorway. The Nebari stood slumped against the door frame, one hand to her head. She did not look well.
"Would someone like to tell me what the frell is going on?" she declared. She caught sight of Aeryn and her dark eyes widened. "What happened to you? You look terrible!"
Aeryn rolled her eyes at Pilot. "I'm not the only one," she replied testily, starting across the walkway. "Come on. I'll explain on the way to the maintenance bay. You might want to have Zhaan take a look at you."
"And you might want to take a bath!" Chiana retorted grumpily. "Covered in goop and scratches! You look like you lost a fight with Rygel!"
Aeryn chose to ignore that. She took the Nebari's arm and helped her to the doorway. Framed by the sweep of gold, she hesitated, glancing back to meet Pilot's eyes.
The navigator smiled at the unspoken question.
"I'll be fine," he said.
Aeryn smiled. "Good. I'll be back later, once I've eaten and bathed. I want to find out exactly how you pulled this off. After all, it isn't every day a Pilot gets to be a hero!"
Leading Chiana by the arm, she turned and left the chamber. The door swung slowly shut behind her. Pilot smiled to himself as he settled down, listening to the familiar hum of Moya's systems with a deep and abiding contentment. His mind ran through the events of the last few arns, of his… adventure. His first adventure. And although it had been stressful and terrifying at the time, in retrospect, he had to admit, at times it had been rather fun as well.
He liked the sound of that.