The Right of Skin.
Summary: AU. John Crichton is caught on a ship. Aliens are present, and his so-called life aboard Moya begins. Basically this starts out at episode One with changes, and then more changes as it goes along. I love the show, but I wanted to do something of an alternate Farscape, where Crichton does not fit in so easily and where he is not so readily accepted, and where things don't work so smoothly. For example: The translator technology (where I use a intelligent chip rather than microbes) - As a bilingual person, I understand the sometimes great differences in how information is communicated from one language to another, and I don't believe even the sophisticated technology of the Peacekeepers (or those aboard Moya) could wrap itself around a totally new language imbedded in an alien brain and then in seconds begin to correctly interpret it with hardly a mistake. Not without weeks of first learning and hearing (or "seeing" – however the chip accomplishes it), the language and relative cultural references that are so great a part of any language. When they use the chip on John here, it does not immediately solve all communication problems with him. Certain language barriers remain. Plus I've taken liberties with some of the characters beliefs and physiological systems, and their reactions to John's presence and why, yet have tried to maintain the essential natures of the characters. I have also found myself needing to make up a few new Farscape Peacekeeper–or-Other words here and there (and had great fun doing it!), the chapter by chapter glossary of which will appear at the end of each posted chapter.
So, if you dare, read on.
Rating:NC-17. Non-con, hetero' and some minimal slash. Go away if any offends.
Pairings:John/Zhaan, John/Various shipmates
Disclaimers: Farscape and its characters are the property of Jim Henson Productions, and a bunch of other folks who made $$ from it. Me? I make fun.
From the beginning...
It was a major snafu, this mission. Alien ships, alien stars and planets. Aliens.
Angry aliens. Ready, it seemed, to do him harm at the slightest provocation. So he sat in the corner of his cell and nursed the gash on his temple and the pounding in his skull - his only steady friends of the moment. The floor was cold but not space-cold, just not warm enough to bring any real comfort. He could feel a thrumming, a motion, a puzzling underscore of a vibration that felt somehow alive beneath his naked feet. His uniform they had stripped from him and greying rags given in its stead. He shivered.
Boots approach. Heavy and rhythmic - a death march? He hoped not, but probably the big guy. The most alien-looking of the foursome who had captured his ship, taken his uniform, bush-wacked him with a blue ray of agony from the metallic little soldiers he saw scooting passed his cell door now and again, and tossed him, bruises and all, into this now most familiar cell. He assumed he had hit his head on the way to the hard floor.
John Crichton, lost in space Earth astronaut, couldn't understand the strange looking creature of course, when the big fellow stopped at the cell door to growl. John just stared back for a few seconds then looked away. No sense in pretending he could make out that grating gibberish, the beast always sounded mad. He himself already made his attempts to be understood, and they had only stared back as well. No, there would be no afternoon chat with tea and cookies today. He was thirsty, too. An ache had set itself up in the back of his throat and he figured maybe a hand gesture or two might score him a drink.
The big guy was turning away, seemingly already frustrated with his inability to elicit any response from his prisoner, when John slapped the floor beside him with his right palm, snapping the big guy's head back around, his eyes dark with suspicion. Whatever. John raised his hand, cupped to appear as a drinking vessel, to his lips and made the needed motion. "I'm thirsty." He said uselessly. "Get it? I need water."
Thick, tapering fleshly locks atop a wide brow whipped around to show the back of a tattooed skull. The alien's lips snorted and he walked away.
Failure number whatever-number-it-is-now. But then the alien returned after a moment with a tall cup of what John hoped was apple juice. Trailing him was a short female with skin the color of volcanic ash. Even her hair was cigarette-ash-grey. The cup-or-whatever was thrust through the openings in the stylishly pattered cell "bars", and rolled across the floor to him. The lid was screwed on. A comfortable handle and a flashy logo and it would have passed for a travel mug. John sniffed.
Water. Ice-cold and refreshing and he drank its entire contents in one go, soothing dry mucus membranes. A violent coughing fit came at the end as his throat, in shock at the wetness, went into spasms. John was surprised to see the slightest flicker of concern cross the woman's face. But then it was gone, and she and the big fellow, neither saying anything more, left.
John sighed. He wondered what was for dinner. With luck he himself was not on the menu. He could hear them arguing, though. A long way away, somewhere in a room that echoed. Their words just audible above the background hum of the ship. The loud back and forth was about him probably. What to do with him. Kill him outright? Torture and then kill him? Eject him into space and let that cold bitch do the job? He wished they would just get it over with.
Zhaan, the ninth level priestess from the planet Delva, her blue skin shimmering in the overhead lights Moya so kindly provided, frowned at D'Argo's suggestion. "Kill him without knowing who he is, or what he is? Seems a tad premature, don't you think?"
Sometimes D'Argo hated the Delvan's patronizing manner. "No I don't think. That creature flew his pathetic ship into Moya and damn near blew a hole in her side." He reminded them. "We could have all been killed along with her. The alien is obviously on a suicide mission from the Peacekeepers."
Aeryn Sun, a former Peacekeeper herself, fielded that one. "Except that he isn't a Peacekeeper, his module is crap, and Peacekeepers do not run suicide missions." She explained, no doubt about it in her own mind. The invader, the little she had seen of him, was not acting like one of her kind at all. Besides they couldn't understand his language. "You said it yourself, D'Argo, he's an alien. Probably not from this sector of the galaxy at all."
Chiana, her soft spoken way of pointing out the obvious, said to the group "Okay, so just how alien is the question, isn't it? I mean if Pilot can't find his type in Moya's data-base – " She looked at Aeryn who shook her head.
"No then." Chiana continued. "And not in the public libraries he's been able to hack into either, then where is he from?"
D'Argo was bored with the whole question and threw his arms up, tired of the whole debate. "What does it matter?"
Zhaan answered the rhetorical question for him, much to his irritated look. "It matters because we are not executioners, and he has done nothing to harm us. The crash could simply have been an accident."
D'Argo huffed. "Mightily well-aimed accident if you ask me."
Chiana shook off any doubts as to what they ought to do. It was clear what the consensus was going to be. "Well, let's go try and talk to him. Get some answers. If he's an assassin we can just as easily kill him later as now, can't we? He can't hurt us. He's the one in a cell."
The diminutive Hynerian Rygel, floating nearby on his skimmer, furrowed his ear-brows, clearing his throat. "That does seem to settle it. Good luck, I'll be in my chambers. Call me if you decide to kill him after all. I haven't seen a juicy execution in a hundred cycles and I'd hate to miss this one."
The group ignored the small shipmate's words and walked to the detention block where their visitor was locked down in cell number One.
Chiana squatted down to get a better view of the creature she had so far seen only twice. When the alien had stumbled from his tiny, smoking ship and almost immediately been dispatched by the DRV's who had got there first, blasting him with a series of energy bursts and dropping him where he stood, she had been the second of two people to arrive at the commotion. Pilot had detected the danger moments before and warned them about an incoming unidentified ship on a collision course with Moya. All nearby crew were to attend to the docking bay at once. There they, she and D'Argo, had found this creature.
The alien was harmless now, wrists cuffed in chains and fastened to the wall behind him. He sat on the narrow cot, legs bent at the knees and drawn up, regarding them passively.
Chiana twisted her head to look up at D'Argo towering beside her. "Do you think he's only pretending not to understand us?"
D'Argo grunted. "Of course."
"Well, what about the translator chip?" Aeryn suggested. It made the most sense. Why all this blather about what to do when the only possible course was clear?
Zhaan put forth her more reasoned thoughts. "Because until we know what species he is, it could do irreparable damage to his brain. We only know what he isn't. We need first to know what he is."
"What about Moya's internal scanners?" Aeryn asked.
"They only provided a cursory look. That's why we know that though he appears to be of the Peacekeeper breed, he is not." Zhaan narrowed her eyes. "There is something different about the shape of his skull and the compactness of his form that does not fit with Peacekeeper physiology. I mean something beyond what would be expected from normal variation in the species." She pointed out the few small details that she had noted. "You see? There, the width of his skull, the lie of the cheekbones and the shortness of the neck."
"Let's get him to the infirmary then." Aeryn said. She was tired of guesswork. It was ridiculously inefficient to stand around and speculate. A DRV was called and a short bolt of energy later, the alien was unconscious.
"Remove his clothes." Zhaan nodded to Chiana who nodded back and then looked at Aeryn because she had not moved from the nearby wall. "You're not sitting this one out." Chiana said.
Aeryn sighed, uncrossed her arms and assisted Chiana in removing the much aged prisoner uniform of raggedy pants and shirt from their prisoner. It did not take more than a moment until the creature was divested of all coverings.
Zhaan glanced at the wall. Though Pilot would not appear there, it was where the internal communication node was located. "Pilot. Record please."
"Recording." Said the disembodied voice.
Zhaan switched on a hand-held scanner, the only one in the ship's medical stores, a narrow device the length of her own forearm, and passed it slowly over the unconscious form of their visitor. A wide beam of soft blue light told her what it was discovering beneath the skin. Zhaan recited her findings aloud, and paused to add details when she came upon something curious.
"Interesting. As I thought, not a Peacekeeper." Though she had just been proven correct, there was no mockery in her tone, simply stated fact. "His heart is located upper center chest cavity. And he has," She paused to count, her lips moving silently for a few seconds, "four partial ribs, two on either side of his spine, unlike the Peacekeeper species, or any other I am familiar with. Two organs that appear to process liquid waste, a single chambered stomach, and two ancillary digestive organs as far as I can tell." One glance was sufficient to determine the nature of his sexual status. "His sex organs appear to be male standard and intact. No obvious injuries. Musculature is well developed and as far as I am able to determine thus far, his over-all health appears good."
Zhaan put away her first instrument and picked up a second one. This small, round object she passed back and forth across his face and skull. "Hmm, an unusual brain formation. Smaller than your average Peacekeeper but multi-faceted, several multi-layers starting with a smaller core heavy with nerve structure. I would guess that is what controls his baser functions; motor-control and involuntary responses."
Zhaan put away the second instrument and produced a third from the small table beside her. This she switched on and shone into his eyes, lifting one lid with her thumb, then the other. "Blue irises. Responsive to light but rather sluggish. Color perception is indicated I would think." She shook her head. "He possesses poor capacity for night vision. Where ever he comes from, he is for certain diurnal."
Chiana looked over at Aeryn. "What does that mean?"
"It means he's a day creature." Aeryn explained. "Sleeps at night, like us."
Chiana shrugged off the suggestion. "Except for me."
"Yes Chiana," Zhaan said. It came out as an afterthought as her mind was on her work, "except for you."
D'Argo could barely contain his impatience. "Yes, yes, yes, we're all fascinated, but what does all of this really tell us?"
Zhaan's eternal patience was wearing thin. "It tells us that he is a living creature who thinks, D'Argo, and we shall not summarily put him to death." She said stubbornly to him and to the rest of her shipmate's.
D'Argo was not one to have his will dictated to him. "Well, I disagree. I believe he poses a danger to this ship and crew. For all we know those who sent him here are tracking him right now."
Zhaan knew it was pointless to argue with a Luxan warrior once he has made up his mind. One may as well try moving a black hole with a spoon. "I suggest a vote." She offered. "Who wants to give us, and the creature, enough time to determine where he is from, his nature and possibly why he is here? Raise your hands."
Chiana raised hers, as did Zhaan herself. After a few seconds, Aeryn also put hers up. At D'Argo's disapproving glare, she shrugged. "I'm curious now."
Gratified, Zhaan said "And who wants to kill him outright?" When no one stepped forward, she looked at D'Argo. "Look as if we're short on volunteers for that particular task."
Useless to press his wishes now that he had already been out-voted, D'Argo stormed from the room. "Go, do your little tests. Be fools about it, I don't care. Just keep that damn creature out of my way or I will kill him."
Chiana stared after him. She would have to find him later and calm him down. Damn moody Luxan. Damn stupid of her to get involved with such an emotionally charged species. Damn that he was also so frelling fun. "He'll cool down." Chiana circled the table to stand on the opposite side. She wanted to get a closer look at their new curiosity. "What else can you tell us about him? Like, maybe can he read minds or, uh, does he breathe something besides air."
Zhaan raised amused eyebrows. "I think that highly unlikely. No, if we are to learn anything more from him, I'm afraid we may have to risk the translator chip."
Aeryn, content to return to her position by the wall "How do we know it'll work on him? His species is in no known data-base. The chip could fry his brain."
Zhaan nodded. "Or possible kill him. I'd like to do a more thorough examination first, to minimize the risk."
"You just said you were done." Chiana said.
"Done with our proper instruments. Now I need samples of him – "
"-Samples?" Chiana asked. "What samples?" She hated to think of scars on that star-frosted skin. Peacekeepers she'd seen, lots of them. Some up really close and personal. Black eyes, black hair, black clothes. White skin. Some Peacekeepers coloring was so white under certain lighting conditions, they looked almost translucent. White skin, purple veins. Odd. Dead-like. Not beautiful.
But this creature, with the blue eyes and the softly sun-struck skin. She favoured her own grey/charcoal cast but still, this alien was nice to look at. Real pretty. Like a desert animal or the glow from the largest satellite orbiting her home world where, on certain nights during the hot months, Nebari's nearest moon took on the color of spun gold.
"I need samples of his skin, blood and internal organs. Don't worry, Chiana." Zhaan said to the Nebari's expression, scrunched up with concern, "I won't hurt him. The samples are very small. There won't be any permanent damage, and the scarring will heal."
"Yeah, but it'll hurt, won't it?"
Zhaan smiled reassuringly. "He's still unconscious. He won't feel a thing."
Aeryn said "I'm going to sit this one out if you don't mind." and beat a hasty retreat.
Chiana watched Zhaan insert a long, thin needle into the alien's right side. "This should be," Zhaan explained as her probe took a tiny bite out of John's liver, "the large organ just below his stomach. I think it not only provides a certain type of bile to aid in digestion but from the amount of blood cycled through it, it also acts as a filter."
Chiana didn't care for the scientific side of things. Her only response was to cringe as the alien lying on the slab twitched in his unconscious state. Seemed to her like he was feeling everything, but Zhaan was occupied, dropping the tiny chunk of flesh into an examination dish. Later, all the pieces would be placed one by one into the vaporizer where then the computer's diagnostics software would analyse them for chemical composition.
Current events in the infirmary bay and Zhaan's normally beautiful blue in places fading to white and in others shadowing over to the color of an over-done food cracker, reminded Chiana to ask. "How are you feeling Zhaan?"
"I'm fine, Chiana."
That's what she always said. "Did Pilot have any luck locating a planet? You know, where you can..." What was the way Zhaan put it? "Store up Kelid?" Zhaan's body must be nearly depleted of it, the stuff vital to her continuing life, Aeryn had explained. But that was a third of a cycle ago.
"Not yet." Zhaan offered her most reassuring smile. "But I'm sure he will soon." Zhaan appeared pleased with her work. "There," she said to none in particular, "all finished."
As Zhaan put away the accoutrements of her pet hobby, Chiana excused herself from the room. Poor alien bastard, she thought, and then said aloud "He hasn't been on board for longer than a few days and already he's being divided up like so many crackers."
Glad for some privacy to study, Zhaan seated herself comfortably close to the computer. It had taken a few moments to chew over the information fed into it and was now offering some preliminary answers. Her eyes on the viewing screen Zhaan was transfixed by the graphics and information now being displayed. "Pilot, record please."
"Thank you." Zhaan gathered her thoughts. "The alien's body chemistry is similar to many species, for example Aeryn, the Peacekeeper species, but it carries several unusual chemicals I've never seen before, most notably those derived from plant food sources." Zhaan glanced over to her alien study and noted that one of the small bandages she had applied had become soaked through with blood.
She stopped her studies for a moment and, not bothering with protective gloves this time, removed the small square of material. Sopping up the still leaking wound with a clean rag she carefully folded a new bandage to apply. The alien did not stir.
"Frell." She snapped at herself when she managed to smear the blood with her small finger. Zhaan moved to a small sink to wash it off when the most extraordinary thing occurred. The small droplet of blood almost immediately began to be absorbed into her skin. She watched fascinated as her own tissue mopped it up eagerly. She washed anyway. It was not the first time such a thing had occurred, as her Delvan skin had evolved to absorb light, moisture, even some types of food, through her stomata. Why just last year, she had managed to get some of Rygel's unpleasant saliva on one of her knees as she brushed passed his habitual spot at their dining table. Some of that had quickly entered her system as well, to no harm. At any rate, there was nothing she could do about it now and if there was any bad reaction to come from the exposure, it would show itself eventually and she would deal with it then.
"Pilot. I'm finished for now. Would you call D'Argo and Aeryn to take our patient back to his cell?"
Zhaan returned to her own chamber pondering over what she had learned about their visitor thus far. There was much meditating to do.
John awoke in more pain than he had felt since the crash. He even hurt inside, like something had crawled in and stung him in a few places, leaving behind some good bruises as reminders. He was back in his old spot, chained by the wrists to the wall behind the cot they had provided for him. Blanket. Pillow. Not much to call home. "Hey!" He yelled as loudly as his sore throat would allow. He wondered if he was coming down with something. He was on an alien ship after all, filled with aliens. They could be carriers for any number of space diseases that he most likely had no immunities to. He could be dead soon. His skin could blister up, his hair go purple and his nuts turn into blobs of alien goo for all he knew - a corpse by the end of the week.
"Hey! Bigfoot!" Plus his stomach was gurgling. "How about some of those dry, tasteless crackers?"
Instead he got wrestled to the ground by Big Ugly Man and Hot Bitch, and a fucking computer chip or something stuck to the back on his neck. As he thrashed and cursed them, he heard the Little Grey Girl chatter on and on about what-the-fuck-he-didn't-know.
"Can't we put him out again?" Chiana asked as Zhaan held the chip in place on the alien's neck, nudging it to what she hoped what the correct spot for his species while D'Argo and Aeryn held him in place.
"He has to be awake for the TC to do its job properly. If he's asleep or unconscious, it'll latch onto the wrong brain-waves and we'll never understand this creature." Zhaan said. "And we've come up empty on what species he is, so it seems we have no choice."
The Translator Chip found its foothold and began bloodlessly cutting its way inside. Thousands upon thousands of gouges made into the flesh, then instantaneous healing of it behind, the TC quickly burrowed its way deeper and deeper until it found and linked its billions of artificial neural connections into his cerebellum and brain stem. Two final groupings of neural fibres snaked through his cranial fluid to what it determined was the seats of his language comprehension, small areas located on his right and left hemispheres. Through it all, their prisoner screamed at the top of his voice.
Chiana watched, both sorry for the new guy and transfixed by what was happening. They were finally going to be able to talk to him. "I got my TC arns ago but I don't remember it hurting so much."
Zhaan provided an explanation that was really not much of one. "You are a known species, Chiana. The TC was probably calibrated to your neurological system which we were unable to do with our guest."
"Oh." Still, the poor guy was screaming pretty loudly. Frell if he couldn't get a break. She hated to see people locked up, chained, held down, things done to them that they didn't want done. She was an escapee from Nebari and because of that she had managed to avoid the brain "cleansing" that almost all of her people were subjected to when they reached a certain age – whether they wanted it or not, so she couldn't help but feel for him.
Finally he stopped thrashing and yelling and fell limp in their arms, sweating and apparently exhausted by the trauma.
"Chain him up again, and lock him in." Was all Zhaan said.
"Now what?" Rygel asked. He had decided to observe this specific show in the hopes of some entertainment. He had not been disappointed.
Zhaan got to her feet. "Now we wait for him to awaken." She said simply.
As she and D'Argo together lifted the unconscious creature onto a rolling cot, Aeryn added, "And hope we haven't lobotomized the poor bugger's mind."
Zhaan didn't voice her concern that destroying his brain was precisely what they had possibly just done. "Let him rest. I'll check on him later." Zhaan returned to her chambers to meditate the unpleasant episode away. She felt, however, oddly renewed by recent events, and there was a spring in her step that had been missing for a long time. Not that she had enjoyed his suffering of course but...it was most curious. She felt suddenly rested, perhaps even stronger. Funny, how the strangest things sometimes bring the most pleasing of surprises.
D'Argo strode onto the bridge with his usual manner of get where he was going as fast as possible. His huge sword/energy weapon was, as usual, slung at his side. "Your alien creature won't eat his crackers this morning." He growled, resenting that he had to share in the caretaking of the newest, and so far most useless, member of their ship-mates. The creature was no mate of his.
Zhaan sighed, trying not to look irritated. "I'll mix up some more of my stomach treatment. It seemed to help the last time." Their guest has thus far not attempted to answer any of their questions, despite the TC already having been in place for over a weeken.
"It's not that kind of sick. His stomach hasn't spilled, there was no shplep to clean up." Thank any and all gods! "He just looks bad."
Zhaan left D'Argo with the job of monitoring Moya's systems while she checked on the alien who for all appearances of bearing good health when he came aboard, was rapidly deteriorating. He seemed to look bad, and had shplepood, an awful lot.
But this morning he was wet with perspiration and Zhaan had encountered enough species who had exhibited that symptom to comprehend its meaning. Their alien was down with fever, and to Zhaan's right concern, that meant an infection or virus. As ships went Moya was cleaner than most. Being a living-ship, her scrubbers circulated and cleaned the air every few arms or so, but that didn't mean that one of her crew couldn't be carrying something that the new creature had no immunity to. Under the two hundred, thirty cycle near universal rule of the Peacekeeper Armada's, almost all species received vaccinations for almost everything truly dangerous. But the galaxy was a big place and this creature had come from somewhere so far away, his species was in no data-base anywhere, and it was unlikely he had received such inoculations as a child.
Zhaan opened the door to her patient's cell. He was still chained, though a bucket and a curtain had been provided for him to evacuate when he needed to without one of them requiring to interrupt their work and come take him to one of Moya's commodes.
Zhaan leaned over him. He was sleeping and was in, she suspected, a high fever. Her stomach drink would do nothing for this. Laying her hand on a fevered chest to check his heart rate, she found it faster than she recalled from her examination of him eight arns ago, but whether that was good or bad, she had no idea. Going over her store of medicinal preparations in her mind she found nothing that might assault it. She tried not to think that it could have been one of her instruments, or she herself, who had introduced a virulent microbe into his body. Later, a confession to the Goddess and a cleansing meditation would be required. After that a long rest, for she was terribly tired today. For the present a consultation of the crew was in order.
"The question is what do we do about it?" Zhaan asked the group.
Chiana appeared upset at the news but other than the suggestion of dunking him in cold water, she had no ideas.
"I say let the fever take its course." Rygel said with what was for him Hynerian high-mindedness. "If he lives, he lives and if he dies..." He shrugged.
Zhaan nodded her head, expecting little else from Rygel. He was not long on creativity.
D'Argo remained silent, his arms crossed in defiance of doing anything.
"I have an idea." Aeryn said. When they were all looking at her, she continued. "I knew a man once, a Peacekeeper. He...hated the life. Rejected it - ran away. Last I heard he was hold up on a Glahk, a Peacekeeper base that was decommissioned cycles ago."
"How do you know him?" D'Argo asked, very curious. It was well known that any Peacekeepers who consorted with rebels or deserters were considered criminals and deserving of death. If Aeryn knew this person, it meant she had acquired that knowledge prior to becoming a fugitive herself on Moya.
Aeryn cleared her throat. "He's an old Peacekeeper commander named Yahbel Dob who lost his way fifty cycles ago. But he was a friend to Crais. Crais protected him." She said, aware of their shocked faces. "Crais helped him escape."
"How can he help our patient?" Zhaan asked.
Aeryn had forgotten to tell them the most important part. "He's a doctor. A good one."
D'Argo, ever vigilant when it comes to danger, asked "Where is this old base which Crais knows the where-abouts-of?" There was no mistaking the underscore of admonition in his tone.
"I can get it from Moya's star charts." Aeryn said.
"Wait a minute." Rygel said, floating the inner of the circle. "We're not really contemplating going to this place are we? An old Peacekeeper base means it's in Peacekeeper territory. It means we'll be flying through one of the Peacekeeper's central systems, doesn't it?"
Aeryn nodded. "An outer system, yes, but one that is still patrolled."
"We have no choice." Zhaan said. "But it doesn't mean we all have to go. I could do it, with someone to assist me?" She looked around at the faces of her comrades.
D'Argo did not even twitch, making it clear what he thought of taking any such risk for one useless, probably dying alien.
Aeryn looked at her shoes. "I can fly you in the Transport but I can't come to see Yahbel. Peacekeepers know the small break-away group is there but they also know the group broke away before Peacekeeper citizenship became legally mandatory for all Peacekeepers over the age of two. Yahbel's group doesn't bother anyone but if any one of them think turning in a fugitive might up their score with the Peacekeepers and keep their freedom for another few cycles, some just might do it."
Zhaan accepted Aeryn's offer with a small smile of gratitude. "I understand. When can we leave?"
Zhaan carefully forced her patient to drink a brew of Tannot Root. In sixty or so microts, he was awake but drugged up enough to be lead with little struggle to the transport ship, where he was once more chained. He mumbled a few unintelligible words, but his fever continued unabated. In fact, from the heat of his back across her right forearm, Zhaan was certain the fever was worse, and dragging him from his bed had hardly helped matters.
Aeryn was able to avoid the one Peacekeeper cruiser in the vicinity. It was armed and active, but seemed to be only listlessly fulfilling the perusal of its duty, orbiting an outer moon of the uninhabited pseudo-planet Koaal. There would only be trouble, Aeryn reasoned, if there were fighter ships out and about. With little trade and no enemy outposts anywhere in the system, there was no reason to have dispatched fighter ships anyway, and so nothing alarming ought to occur.
"I'm taking us to the main hangar of Uhl." Aeryn said. It was the largely empty city on the small southern continent, where her acquaintance the doctor was supposed to have his doctoring business. "I'll land and lock up the ship after you leave, and for frell's sake whatever you have to do be quick about it.'
Zhaan nodded. "We will."
Half steering, half carrying her patient to Yahbel's antiquated shop proved less difficult than she'd anticipated, and arrived with almost her full strength intact. But she was on a planet, wasn't she? Hand-made surfaces for walking and not a lot of trees or grass, but still she felt better somehow being planet-side, even if it wasn't the right type of planet.
"Come on." She said softly to encourage her patient to keep moving. Finally, they struggled through a glass door black with cycles of filth, entering a dark interior. There were three chairs, two broken, and a long, narrow counter supporting nothing more than dust. Had Aeryn been mistaken? Was the old doctor gone?
A hinged voice from the rear room answered her unspoken question. "Come in finally. Ya' can't expect me to do any healing in that dump, can you?"
Zhaan swept the dividing curtain aside with her left arm while supporting her patient with her right. "Are you doctor Yahbel?"
A very, very old Sebacean turned from his old fashioned printed books and regarded her as though she were retarded. "And who else would I likely be?" He narrowed incredibly wrinkled eye lids nestled in a face that had seen three hundred cycles at least. "Eh? Blue child?"
Zhaan recognised the old Sebacean nick-name that some had given to her race. It was meant as a derisive comment on their child-like belief in things that could not be seen, like gods and the hope for peace. She thought it wise to overlook the insult. "I am Zhaan. This creature is ill and I'm afraid my healing herbs have been no use."
The old Sebacean's eyes, two tiny black spots surrounded by a mess of black, straw-like hair, lit up as though he had not had a good medical mystery for some time. "Well, let's have a look at him then. Lie him down there." For a moment he returned to his books that were scattered in piles on every shelf. Jars of roots and mercurial liquids filled all the spaces in between. "What is he by the way?"
Zhaan made her patient comfortable. "He's male."
Yahbel turned around with a book in his hand. This one had no outer binding remaining and was written, as far as she could tell, in a language she had never encountered. "I can see that much without your help, you fool. I mean his species."
Zhaan stared down at the creature's pale, perspiring face. There was an ugly black half moon beneath each eye. "That's just it – I don't know. That's why none of my elixirs have worked."
That piqued his interest. "Oh. Well, then we must figure that out first, mustn't we?" He chuckled, a soft giggle that sounded like the dying squeak of a drannit. "You wouldn't want me to accidently kill him after coming all this way?"
Zhaan tried her best to smile politely but only managed a grimace at the old man's coarse humour.
The fellow performed much of the same examinations as Zhaan herself had when the alien had first come on board, only with older instruments. He also did things like lean in and sniff the alien's skin, peer into the depths of his ear-holes, and palpate his abdomen with his fingers, probing deeply in this place and that. "This is no Sebacean, that's for sure." He remarked. Yahbel took a small knife and cut a slice of skin from the upper arm, as well as a smear of blood. "I'll just run these through my diagnostic computer."
"Our own computers were unable to identify him."
"But you didn't use my computer, did you?"
"Well, no, but – "
"My computer, its data-base and its brain, isn't from these parts at all. There are species in my data-base," He turned to look at her pointedly, "and in my brain that no one's ever heard of but me, and that includes your Peacekeeper protected data-base too, where people think they keep the addresses of the gods. Hah! Idiots."
As his computer did its work, the old man spent a few more microts staring down at the alien patient, biting his lip. "His build is wrong. Well proportioned but...wrong." He muttered aloud. "Not Sebacean, not Kibum, not Cerus-Das, not the eyes of a Sebacean Slave-Bred either. Five fingers so not a Marunee..." He frowned and shook his head. "No sign of Calnonod secreting glands below the navel...the coloring is wrong for a Prussh, the musculature is wrong for a Verandinda warrior, skin dyed for battle."
His computer trilled for attention and Yahbel gave up his puzzled monologue for a moment, reading the results on a tiny hand-held screen large enough for only his eyes. When he was finished, she shuffled his bent body to the diagnostic analyser and checked the results of the blood work and skin sample. He muttered something to himself. "Boro...what? That can't be. Nothing in this system produces it. Nothing in this sector." He shrugged to himself. "Nothing in this galaxy. Except for one world."
Zhaan was shocked when he turned to her and demanded. "Is this some sort of joke? Have you altered this creature to play a joke on me?"
"What? Of course not."
"Well, if it is a joke, it's a damn odd one. This creature isn't from anywhere that I have heard of, or seen, or even dreamed about. But I'll tell you one thing I do know, he carries a form of borocarbonate in his tissues. I can see why you're so worried. Is he your mutant secreter? Your life-giver perhaps? If so, I have never heard of a beast created in such a way. It is an amazing feat of species bio-engineering. Congratulations."
Zhaan's head was swimming. Created? Bio-engineered? Boro..? Borocarbonate? How could it be? The very essence of her illness. The chemical soup she craved and had been lacking for almost a third of a cycle. Her physical life.
"Too bad he's dying." Yahbel started putting his books away.
"Wha- no, no. You can't." Zhaan stumbled over her words, trying to explain. "Please. We didn't create anything. He crashed onto our ship, we have no idea where he came from or what he is." Borocarbonate? The elixir of her own body, her flesh in its desperate need. And it – he – lay there melting in fever, now too sick to walk on his own, and too stubborn or too brain-ruined to speak to them. Had the TC caused this? Her instrusive examinations? The food cubes, the water, the air on Moya? Had they somehow been slowly killing him? "Please. I beg of you. You must help him."
Yahbel shrugged again. "I can try." He placed cool wet rags on his head and chest and administered an injection of broad spectrum anti-viral/biotics. He also doused the sleeping creature's hair with a fowl smelling Oil-of-Peruut that Zhaan recognised as a wholly mythical healing ointment oft used by Delvan under-graduate priests.
Yahbel looked at her. "Eh." He said. "It can't hurt." He waved her away. "Take him home now. There's nothing more I can do."
As she struggled to get her burden to his feet, Yahbel tucked a small data crystal into her robe pocket. "Here. This contains some more trivial information you might read sometime, if you want to."
"What do we owe you?" Zhaan handed him a small white purse. It jingled with coins.
Yahbel took it without opening it. "That's fine. Nothing to buy on this planet anyway."
As Zhaan made her way to the door she heard Yahbel's final words. "Oh and, say hello to Aeryn Sun for me, will you?"
That made Zhaan hoist her patient along all the faster. She reached the transport module, practically threw the patient down on the wall shelf, not bothering to chain him at all. He was unconscious now, and wasn't going anywhere. "Let's go." She barked at Aeryn.
Aeryn fired the module's main engine. "What happened?"
"Please, let's just go home." Aeryn flew as fast as the small ship could manage and soon they were all safely aboard Moya.
The Right of Skin - Chapter One Glossary:
Shplep; vomit, puke. "Usage: "I hate cleaning up shplep."
Shplepood; the act of vomiting. Usage: "He's shplepood. Gross!"
Shplepooded; the act of already having vomited. Usage: "Uh, oh, he already shplepooded. Get the bucket."
Chapter Two asap.