Summary:Ghost story set in season 1. Out of water and dying, the crew encounters a planet-sized sphere of drinkable water floating in space. However, they soon realize that what they thought of as their salvation might be worse than the alternative.
Disclaimer:I don't own them. I'm only borrowing and promise to put them back in roughly the same shape I borrowed them in.
Timeline:Set in the first season after the crew picked up Chiana. (Why first season, you ask? I don't know. Because my muses say so, I guess, and arguing with muses is a no-win proposition.)
Spoilers:General for the first season, but none for specific eps.
Feedback:Feedback is good. Feedback is great. Feedback is better than that drenn John keeps snorting because Granny Wrinkles says that it'll make him forget all his problems with Aeryn. In other words: feed me!!!
Chapter 1 -- Out of Time
John tried to climb gracefully out of the Prowler, but stumbled instead, too weak and too uncoordinated to catch himself.
"Whoa, take it easy there…" Chiana said, reaching up to break his fall. Of course, she was not much stronger than he was right now, and only the fact that he was also hanging on to the edge of the Prowler kept them both from ending up on the floor.
"Thanks, Pip…" he groaned, easing himself the rest of the way down.
"Yeah, yeah. You, uh… Did you…"
"No, Chiana." He sighed and shook his head, regarding her sadly. She looked worse than he felt. "No water."
"Frell…" she muttered, sighing.
"How's Aeryn?" he asked.
"Oh, she's even more foul-tempered than usual." Chiana grinned. Humor had always been her defense-mechanism of choice.
"Yeah, I'll bet." John sighed.
Aeryn got irritated when her few weaknesses began showing, and now was no exception. Sebacians, it seemed, were as susceptible to dehydration as they were to heat delirium. She did not have to say it, and none of the others had to tell him for John to know the truth. Aeryn Sun was dying. Of course, they were all dying, but Aeryn was getting there a lot faster than the rest of them.
"She needs water, John…" Chiana told him, shaking her head. She had not been with the crew long, but, although she would not have admitted it, she genuinely respected and cared for Aeryn, for all of them. "I… I offered her some of my ration today, but she refused."
John nodded. "Okay. I'll talk to her." He nodded again, ignoring the throbbing pain in his head, another symptom of his dehydration. "I'll talk to her, get a drink of water, then get searching again."
Chiana nodded. "John…" she began.
"I know, Chiana!" he replied shortly. "If I don't find water soon, we're all dead. I know." He nodded and sighed, regretting having snapped at the obviously-scared girl. "I do…"
Chiana stared at her feet. "I was going to say that D'Argo wants to talk to you, but, yeah, that too."
"Hey, Pip… I am not going to let you down. Promise."
She nodded and looked up at him hopefully. "Yeah, John, I know. You should… go. I'll make sure the DRDs refuel the Prowler okay."
"Thanks, Chi." He smiled and patted her shoulder, then left the docking-bay. "Yo, Pilot!" he called, tapping his Comm. "Where's Aeryn?"
"In the mess-hall, Commander."
John winced. Even Pilot was beginning to sound tired and listless. "And D'Argo?"
John nodded and veered towards the mess-hall. "How you holding up?" he asked Pilot.
"I suffer with the rest of you, however my connection to Moya helps to stave off the worst of the dehydration. She is supplying me with as much fluid as she can spare."
John considered this. Pilot's tone was always hard to read. "How bad is it?"
"Moya is in significant distress, but her body is more equipped to retain fluids for long lengths of time. She is not yet in any real danger."
John nodded. "Okay. That's good to hear, Pilot. You hang in there."
"Thank you, Commander."
John sighed as he closed the Commlink. It seemed that the only member of the crew who was not suffering from the effects of dehydration was Rygel. Typical. Shaking his head and putting on his brave face, he hoped, he walked into the mess-hall. Aeryn was sitting at a table, resting her chin on her hands and staring at a blank section of wall.
They had assigned her to handle the daily distribution of water, as much to keep her from moving around at all as anything. She spent her days in the mess-hall measuring out water for the rest of the crew and keeping track of daily intake. They had been rationing their water for more than a month and had been on short rations for the past week. Aeryn had began suffering almost immediately after rationing had begun, and John, D'Argo, and Zhann had decided that this duty would be best for her. She resolutely refused to drink more than her equal share of the water in spite of her symptoms and had been unfailing fair in distributing the waning supply. Even Rygel could find no reason to complain.
"Hey, Aeryn…" John said softly.
"Crichton…" she said softly, rising. "Anything?"
He shook his head. "Sit down, Aeryn, I'll get it."
"My job, I'll do it…" she announced, walking over to the refrigeration unit. Wobbling, actually, was a more accurate description.
"Damn, girl. You drinking your quota?"
She nodded. "Just like the rest of you." She consulted the check-list that she kept and looked at John. "You have another glass and a half for today."
"Just give me half a glass."
She nodded and carefully measured it out and handed it to John. "If you're going back out, you should have more."
"Not thirsty…" John told her.
"That's a symptom of dehydration."
"I know…" he said, sighing.
He nodded and took a small sip, ignoring the taste and resisting the urge to swallow the full five ounces at once. It was not water at all, but purified neural fluid from Moya, as much as they could safely extract without causing permanent damage. It tasted absolutely foul, had been recycled twice, boiled three times, purified seven ways to Sunday, and was still nothing resembling pure water. But it had water in it, and it was all that was left. The crew was grateful for it, foul taste and all.
"Here…" he moved the glass towards her mouth, but she shook her head and leaned away.
"No…" she protested. "I've already had my ration for the day."
"It's not enough!" he snapped.
"It's not enough for any of us!" she shouted back, shaking her head. "Don't you understand that, human? We are all dying. It will be better if we die at different times." She shook her head and looked down at her hands on the table, watching them shake and feeling strangely detached.
"How do you figure?" John muttered, shaking his head.
"When I die, my share of the water will be redistributed among the rest of you. That means more for all. And my blood--"
"I don't think so!" John exclaimed, shaking his head in disgust. "Aeryn, no!"
"This is the reality of life in this part of space. It is the Peacekeeper way."
"Screw the Peacekeepers!" John snapped, jumping up. He grabbed the back of her head and forced the glass to her mouth. "Drink it!"
She shook her head and made a negative sound, keeping her mouth firmly closed.
"You drink it or it's going to end up all over the floor!"
"Frell you!" she snapped, jerking her head out of his grip. "You have no right! You, more than anyone, need to stay hydrated. You are the only one of us well enough to go look for water. I will not allow you to condemn them to death because of some misguided--"
"Do you want to die?" John demanded, cutting her off. "Because it sure sounds that way from over here."
Aeryn glared at him, furious. "Do not presume to judge me, John Crichton…" she told him in a low, angry voice. "You do not know what you are talking about. Now finish your water and get the frell back to the Prowler."
John shook his head, too tired and too confused to frame any kind of response to that. He drained his glass and stalked off. Aeryn picked up the glass, regarding it for a moment before licking off a few drops that were dripping down the outer surface. Sighing, she returned it to the refrigeration unit.
"Someone has got to do something about Aeryn…" John announced as he walked onto Command.
He stopped in his tracks, aware that he had interrupted D'Argo in the act of giving a sip of water to Zhann. The Delvian was sitting on the floor, leaning against a wall, her hands wrapped around D'Argo's. His, in turn, were wrapped around a glass of water. Zhann was not looking good. In fact, John seriously doubted that she was even aware of D'Argo or the water. D'Argo held the glass until she had drained it, then lightly touched the back of his hand to her face, sighing. Shaking his head, he rose.
"Crichton." He nodded at John, doing his best not to look guilty. "Nothing?"
John shook his head. "That was your water."
D'Argo nodded. "She finished hers arns ago."
"How long has she been like that?" John asked.
"Half an arn." He shook his head. "I didn't know what else to do."
"No, you… you did the right thing, man." John nodded reassuringly.
This whole situation was insane. He remembered, as a child, reading stories about sailors, lost and dying of thirst. The stories had scared the hell out of him then, but the reality was worse. He also recalled that sometimes these sailors would kill one of their number and drink their blood, as Aeryn had proposed they do to her once she died. He shivered, pushing the thought out of his mind. They would find water before it came to that. They had to…
"Long range scans show a large asteroid field…" D'Argo told him.
"Ice?" John asked.
D'Argo nodded. "We hope." He sighed and looked at Zhann again. He moved to the other end of Command and nodded for John to join him. "Aeryn says that we have less than a day's worth of drinkable fluid left."
"Good…" John muttered. "I was getting tired of brain juice, anyway."
"Not funny…" D'Argo growled.
"D'Argo, nothing about this situation is funny. We're cannibalizing our own ship, Aeryn's talking about doing the same to each other…" He shook his head. "There has to be something else on this ship we can drink?" Remembering what Aeryn had said about her blood and hating himself, John asked, "Moya's got blood, right?"
D'Argo shook his head. "There's no way to purify out all the alkaloids. It would kill us faster than the dehydration."
"Swell. Then I guess the asteroids are our only hope?"
D'Argo nodded. "They seem to be. The problem is that they're almost two days from here."
"Damn…" John muttered, shaking his head. "Dying of thirst in sight of the oasis…"
"Aeryn won't make it that long, and I don't think Zhann will either."
"They can have my water. Two days isn't that long…" John said.
D'Argo nodded slowly. "Can Aeryn be convinced to accept it, though?"
"You hold her, I'll grab a funnel…"
D'Argo nodded. "I've already given Zhann all of my water for the day. She's welcomed to tomorrow's as well. How are the others?"
"Chiana's sick, but I think she's got two days left in her. And Rygel is… Rygel."
D'Argo nodded. "I wonder how much drinkable fluid could be extracted from his body?"
"Who would drink it?" John scoffed, shaking his head. "This is cutting it close, but I think we can make it."
D'Argo nodded. "Pilot, set a course for the asteroid field."
"Yes, Ka D'Argo."
"I'll tell the others…" John offered, suspecting that D'Argo would want to stay with Zhann.
"Thank you. I'll--"
"John!" Chiana's voice came over the Comm. "I need you in the mess-hall!"
"Aeryn…" John gasped, taking off at a run. When he arrived, Chiana was kneeling on the floor next to an unconscious Aeryn, shaking her frantically.
"She just passed out!" Chiana explained, looking up at John with wide eyes.
"Okay. It's okay. I've got another glass due to me today. Get it for me!" he ordered, dropping to his knees next to Aeryn and wondering if ten ounces of water would do her any good at all. It would have to.
Chiana poured with shaking hands, barely managing to avoid spilling any. She handed the glass to John, who pulled Aeryn into a sitting position in his arms, cradled against his chest. Her eyelids did not even flutter as he forced her to drink the entire glassful. John closed his eyes and held Aeryn against his chest for several more minutes, waiting and hoping.
"John…" Chiana began uncertainly, watching him.
"She's still alive. For how long, I don't know. Grab her feet. Let's get her to her room."
Chiana nodded shakily and helped John carry Aeryn to her room. Even between the two of them, it was an effort.
"So, this is how it ends?" Chiana asked as John pulled Aeryn's boots off and did his best to make her comfortable. "We just… pop off, one at a time?" She looked at John with wide eyes. "It can't end like this."
"Come here…" John pulled her into a gentle hug. "Chi, you're doing great so far. Think you can hang on for two more days?"
"What happens in two days?" she asked softly.
"D'Argo's found an asteroid field. Asteroid fields usually have ice. Think you can hang on for that long?"
She nodded, chuckling softly. "Yeah, oh, yeah. Two days. No problem."
"Okay. Let's get out of here, let Aeryn get some rest." John was reluctant to leave her, but wanted to take the Prowler out again to scout the asteroid field, maybe even snag some samples of ice.
"Will she be okay alone?" Chiana asked.
John nodded. "I think so." He hoped so. "Come on, I need your help on pre-flight."
As soon as they had left, Rygel came out of the room he had been hiding in and approached Aeryn's bed, clutching a cup of water in one hand. He looked around cautiously before slowly pouring a few drops down Aeryn's throat. When she did not protest or show any sign of waking, he gave her more.
"Don't think I'm doing this because I like you…" he muttered, giving her a few more sips. "Because I don't. But…" He shrugged and poured the rest of the water down her throat. "Having you around keeps me from getting killed. And now you owe me one…" Smiling smugly, he left.