Child Of The Night - Chapter 3

The delvian acolyte who was guiding Aeryn through the underground warren of hallways stepped to one side
and motioned for her to enter the darkened chamber ahead of him.  He was young, not fully grown, probably
less than fifty cycles old, and she expended two microts wondering if the child had been somewhere in this
underground habitat the last time they were here, or if the sanctuary had received more pilgrims since then.  
She stopped, waiting for her eyes to adjust to the dim light, and he left her, backing silently out of the room.  

Several figures were standing in the center of the huge chamber, arranged in a rough circle, submerged to
their waists in a pool of roiling water.  The surface was a maelstrom of bubbles; the entire atmosphere of the
chamber was damp from the moisture being carried out of the pool on the constant burbling stream of air.

“Come, Aeryn Sun.  You must comfort him,” one of the delvians called.  They were struggling with something,
but the light was too dim for her to see what they were doing in the pool.  “Let him know that a friend is near.”  

Logic and the summons told her that they had to be holding Crichton.  Little else about the situation made
sense.  Then, on top of everything else, as she approached the edge of the pool, it began to rain.  The
surrealism of a rainstorm this far underground added to her disorientation; it exceeded her ability to accept
what was going on around her, and she stumbled, suddenly dizzy.  The solution to a minor portion of her
confusion was provided when she turned her face up toward the high arching ceiling, in part to allow the rain to
patter down on her face, but also in the hope that she would not actually discover rain clouds drifting about
above her.  There was no rain.  The saturated atmosphere was being precipitated in a dome, providing a
simple, energy efficient method for returning the water to the pool.  

When she turned her attention back to what was going on in the chamber, Aeryn saw that one of the priests
was beckoning to her, gesturing for her to join them in the pool.  Aeryn started to remove her boots … and
froze in shock when she finally spotted Crichton.  

They had him completely submerged.  

“He can’t survive under water!” she shouted.  “He only breathes air!”  

Her headlong plunge into the water fully clothed was prevented by the assurances delivered by a calm, mildly
amused voice.  “Do not be concerned for his life, Aeryn Sun.  We are not drowning John Crichton.”

Immersed to her waist, Lorana waded toward Aeryn with the same smile of humorous understanding that Zhaan
used to bestow on those around her.  It told her that her reaction was entirely normal, but that she had been
silly anyway.  

There was no way to be mad or hurt at the mild, implied censure when faced with that serene expression of
empathy.  Aeryn relaxed and went back to her hurried, fumbling efforts to release the buckles on her boots.  

“His species is gestated in water, the same as sebaceans,” the delvian mystic explained.  “A return to his most
basic beginnings will assist in both his physical and his mental healing.  This liquid is not precisely water, but
that word will suffice as a description.  Please accept my promise that there is more than sufficient oxygen being
provided in order to sustain him.”  

Aeryn’s eyes had finally adjusted to the half-light, allowing her to see John more clearly.  He was struggling in
their embrace, thrashing madly as they tried to restrain and soothe him.  It had been almost twenty arns since
the delvians had taken custody of his drugged body, and she did not know how much of the nerve damage they
could have repaired in that time.  From where she stood there was no way of telling whether his frenzy was
emotional, psychosis, agony or a combination of all three.  She yanked off her boots and pants, and slid into
the pool without hesitation, anxious to find out how their care was affecting him.  

The liquid was warm, hotter than she normally liked, but she knew that John’s human physiology seemed to
thrive in water like this.  He liked long steaming hot showers while she used them only to get clean when she
was truly filthy, and she assumed that this environment had been arranged specially for him.  

“Come,” Lorana beckoned.  “See if you can let him know that you are here.”  

The circle shifted, creating a gap so she could reach John, who was twisting and straining in a persistent but
uncoordinated attempt to pull himself loose.  They were trying to calm him, combining a firm control of his body
with longer stroking motions.  The blind eyes wandered frantically, no recognition or awareness in them, not
focusing on any of the people surrounding him although he seemed to be searching for something.  

Drawing closer, it became obvious to Aeryn that he was breathing the oxygenated liquid.  His chest was heaving
with his frantic exertions.  Before she touched him, she asked, “Is he upset or is he suffering?”

“He fights the restrictions and the strange surroundings.  The damage to his sensory nerves has received
primary attention.  There is certainly great discomfort, but he is no longer in any significant amount of pain.”  A
small geyser fountained to one side as Crichton managed to rip an arm loose from their hold, and the splashing
increased as two of the delvians scrambled to recapture the limb.  

Aeryn waded closer and began to run her hand across his chest, imagining what she would be saying to him if
he could hear her, willing him to recognize the hand that was rubbing the tensely strung muscles.  He paused
for a microt, generating a short-lived hope that he knew who was touching him, and then he resumed his
twisting and bucking, trying to wrench himself free, and the hope was gone.  She persevered, trusting that the
delvians would not ask her to do this if there was no chance it was going to work.  She ran her hand down his
ribs, across his body, and rubbed several circles over his stomach before drawing up his ribs and starting over,
repeating the familiar motions again and again in the hopes that some portion of the damaged mind would
recognize the caresses.  

There was huge heaving movement against the hands that held him, accompanied by a flurry of spastic
twitches and jerks, and then John simply stopped struggling.  He wasn’t relaxed yet, but he was no longer
fighting the multiple embraces.  Aeryn continued to rub his chest, trying to use patterns that he might identify as
coming from her.  His chest moved raggedly under her palm as he fought against the drowning sensation of
breathing liquid.  John would breathe normally for a short period of time then either choke or hold his breath.  
His chest would start to heave against the lack of oxygen and then he would begin breathing again, only to
have the sequence repeat several breaths later.  

“Is this submersion necessary?” she asked, suffering for him as he suffered in his strange environment.  

His muscles had relaxed to the point that she could feel him twitching beneath her touch.  The delvian healer
had said he was not in any ‘significant amount’ of pain.  Depending on the delvians’ opinion of what constituted
extreme pain, that description could have meant anything from an almost unbearable agony to a mild ache.  
That there was some discomfort left went without saying.  The submerged body continued to jerk spasmodically
beneath Aeryn’s hands, lacking only the frantic focus now that he was no longer fighting them.  The panting
delvians stood up straighter and began to relax.  The therapy did not end though.  They continued their careful
attendance to his body without pausing.    

“Thank you, Aeryn Sun,” a familiar voice said in a calm, quiet tone.  Aeryn looked up to find Tahleen standing
across from her.  The priest was soaked from head to foot, and was working on one of John’s arms, repeatedly
massaging it from shoulder to fingertips.  A sideward nod of Tahleen’s head directed Aeryn’s attention toward a
male priest who was standing near John’s head -- the same priest who had requested the details of John’s
injuries when Pilot had first contacted the colony.  

“I am Meylan Vilar, Sixteenth Level Pa’u and first among healers within our sanctuary.”  He bowed his head
slightly toward Aeryn before continuing.  “It is I who will lead the efforts to heal John Crichton’s mind.  This will
take much longer than these crude repairs to his physical form and we would like to request your assistance, as
well as that of your companions.”  

“What can we do to help?”  The group guided Aeryn toward Meylan, passing her from one set of hands to the
next until she reached a spot alongside him near John’s head.

“I will explain what is required later.  For now, I would like John Crichton to be aware that someone he knows is
here with him.  Tahleen suggests that you might be the person from your crew who can offer the greatest
amount of comfort to him in his current state of distress.  We understand that Zhaan is no longer with you?”  

Aeryn nodded, unable to express the loss with words.  

Meylan placed his hands against the temples of the now quiescent human.  John was floating more quietly in
their hands, still looking tense but submitting to the continued massage.  “There is little understanding left in his
mind.  What he does perceive confuses and worries him.  He is distraught on an instinctual level, and we must
reassure him.  Are you willing to help?”  

“Of course.”  Aeryn was shocked at the question.  She forced the surprise and her own emotions to one side
while examining the ring of waiting, expectant faces surrounding her.  “Of course I’ll help.  We brought him here
to help him.  We all want him back the way he was.  That’s why we came here.”  

“Very good.  Our presence in his mind will not reassure him.  For that we will need the assistance of you and
your friends.”  Meylan took her hands in his and together they held John’s head, fingers splayed around his
ears and wrapped behind his skull.  “What you are about to experience is not Unity.  This will be no more than a
Meeting of two minds, a touching and sharing of thoughts and memory but not of identity.  Focus on John
Crichton and your desire to see him well again, and I will carry you to where he exists.”  

SCREAMING.

Aeryn broke the contact before she could stop herself, stepping back into the hands of someone standing
behind her.  “John.”  Her one syllable was full of distress.  The echoes of the howling she had heard in the
scarran compound thirteen days earlier continued to reverberate in her mind and her nerves were singing from
a hint of the agony he had suffered, the sounds and sensations transferred in a split-microt from his memory to
hers.    

“It is his most recent and most intense recollection.  I apologize, Aeryn Sun, I should have anticipated that.  I will
be more cautious this time and guide you around that portion of his mind.”  Meylan reached for her hands as
she willingly stepped forward to stand beside him again.  

“You don’t have to do that.  I have to know about what happened to him sooner or later, and I can go back
there now that I know what to expect.”  After everything they had been through over the past cycles, she was
not going to allow herself to be left out of any portion of John’s life, not even the worst moments.  

“Perhaps, my dear.  But this meeting is for his benefit, not ours, and must be brief.  We will accomplish our task
and then leave him to begin his journey of healing.  We may need to explore this event all too thoroughly in the
days ahead.  It is best left until later.”  Meylan joined their hands a second time and Aeryn slid easily into John’s
consciousness, following the delvian’s mental specter through a maze of images and sensations.  

Aeryn found herself floating suspended, all sensory input muffled by waves of water that seemed to hiss and
tickle against skin that was too sensitive, too reactive to the touch.  She felt the ache of muscles that had been
spurred into impossible contractions, joints that had almost dislocated when assaulted by the need to escape
an inescapable agony.  There were other discomforts too painful to examine, and she moved on, finding the
rest of the sensations that flowed over him and engaged the full capacity of his limited awareness.  

He knew that the touches had not left.  The touches had not stopped moving across skin that alternately
burned and then felt chilled, each stroke leaving a quieter sensation in its wake.  She could feel the muscles
leaping of their own accord, jerking in disharmonic patterns in response to random impulses from hastily
restored pathways.  It was uncomfortable and she could feel the struggle for a control that could not be
achieved, the consciousness fighting unsuccessfully to move through damage-blocked passages.  

Her impression of the world around her shifted from awareness to confusion and back, one moment knowing
fully what was around her, the next descending into chaos and bewilderment, and then shifting back to
comprehension again.  She wandered the corridors of a destroyed mind, searching for some anchor of sanity,
seeking one single thought that would offer stability and enough peace that relaxation could be restored.  She
found only a maze of tangled impressions, dissociated memories, and pain.  

Aeryn staggered away from John, breathing hard as she tried to take in the order of the pool and the scene
around her.  “I couldn’t find him,” she said, distraught over what she had sensed in his mind.  “There’s nothing
left of him.  John is gone.”  The burning run of tears streaked down her cheeks, unstoppable now that she knew
they had done the wrong thing by bringing him here.  They had subjected John to twelve solar days worth of
physical and mental agony for no reason other than to soothe their own loss, and it had been in vain, just as
the medtech had told them.  Aeryn turned away to hide the brimming tears, staying that way long enough to
rinse her face with a double handful of water.   

Behind her, Meylan spoke, delivering a more hopeful message.  “Try again, Aeryn Sun.  He is there and he still
fights, but you cannot look for the familiar personality you have come to know as John Crichton.  You began
correctly.  Return and seek out the impressions of the world that surrounds him, the simpler functions of his
being.  That is where you will find him.”  

Meylan waited patiently, allowing her the time necessary to regain her composure.  After several microts, Aeryn
returned and wrapped her shaking hands around John’s skull again.  The third slide into his mind was even
easier than the first two, and she had time to look around in order to assess her surroundings before moving
deliberately toward the physical sensations she had encountered the last time.    

The hands continued to restrain limbs that jerked spasmodically in response to chaotic signals, each touch
alternating between comfort and agony as synapses misinterpreted the signals and shunted them to and from
the wrong receptors.  An entire nervous system sang with the violence of destruction.  It was a crashing roar in
the background that made it difficult to discern the few correctly interpreted sensations.  She moved past the
cacophony and sought out the feelings that seemed to make sense even though they were not familiar.  

There was the surge of the ocean inside lungs that had not felt liquid since birth, both an ache and an
analgesic.  The throat was raw, and burned from the liquid that washed in and out with each breath, but it was a
healing burn so she did not mind it … he did not mind it.  Aeryn followed the acceptance to its source and that
was where she found John, wrapped in conflict between the soothing nature of weightless suspension, and the
sensory deprivation he was experiencing by being submerged, distracted by the opposing sensations resulting
from the stroking, and worried to near panic by his inability to control his environment.

Aeryn beckoned to him, urged him gently, showed him the purpose of the hands that tried to reassure, that
eased the ache and took away more of the underlying agony.  She revealed the source of the flood of
discomfort, led him to view the unhealed synapses throughout his system.  There had been no time for
anything more than the most gross realignment of his sensory flow, but the lines were open to signals again,
and the remainder of the repairs would have to wait.  She moved his awareness over these facts, showed him
that it was just the beginning, and felt his fear ease, leaving him with more time to consider the touch of her
presence in his mind.  

She entwined herself into him a little farther in order to lead him toward a place where she could hear Meylan
chanting a delvian ritual, wanting to show him that he was safe and secure. What remained of John was like a
scared animal, all jumps and quivers without coherent thought, a mass of fast impressions conveying emotions,
but not actually transferring the feelings to her.  He broke away from her embrace in fear, backing away from
the droning of the delvians.  She stopped to wait for him, letting his curiosity bring him closer.  He edged nearer
in fits and starts, nearly bolting when someone changed their grip on one of his legs.  She had no voice with
which to explain or reassure him, so she waited until he touched her again, a tentative mental prick testing to
see if it was safe, then she opened up and showed him who was there.  

AERYN?  

The symbol that represented everything he knew of her came rippling toward her through their tenuous
connection.  

AerynAerynAerynAeryn!  

He moved into her, not invading her but simply permitting her to surround him with security.  

AerynAerynAerynAeryn!  

The symbol continued to ring through her mind as though it were Zhaan’s chanting bell responding to her
careful spiritual cadence.  Her name continued to reverberate within both their psyches as he shuddered with
relief.  

I’m scared.

It was not a thought or a confession.  It was him.  It was the greatest part of what was left of John, a part of him
hidden so deeply beneath what little else remained that he could scarcely admit it to himself.  But he could not
prevent it from touching her when he pulled her around him.  She could feel that he wanted her to make him
feel better, and did her best to show him what had happened.  But every image she presented in explanation
had no meaning for him.  He battered against the blockages, trying unsuccessfully to find some connection,
finally giving in to the invading panic when nothing she showed him made any sense.      

She tied his thoughts into immobility with her calm, slowing the frantic thrusting of his mind until she could get
him to listen to her thoughts again.  She wanted to know if he trusted her.  

He did.  

Then he had to trust her now, and wait for her here in this warm place, this womb of safety.  

He would, he would, he would, he would wait for her.  

The others from Moya might come and visit but it would be all right.  

It would, it would, it would be all right if they visited, he would be all right here waiting for her.  Who are those
people though?  WHO would come and visit?  She had to be here to tell him if it was all right to let them in
because he didn’t know who she was talking about.
 

He would know them when they arrived, she assured him.  He would remember.  

He would?  Aeryn said he would so he would, he would.  

He could sleep and listen to the delvians if they came to talk to him.  

He could, he would, he would wait for her here, because it was safe for him here.  He would listen to anyone
Aeryn told him to listen to … but what are delvians?
 

He would know them when they arrived.  She was sure he would know them because they were nice.  

Nice people.  He tried the image out in his mind.  It didn’t have any meaning.  He would trust what Aeryn told
him though, because she was Aeryn.  He would wait for the ‘nice people’.
 

‘I will be back.’  She managed to push the thought across to him on a rippling wave of mental energy.  ‘Aeryn
will be back.’  It was easier the second time.  

John clutched at the thought, crushed it into a symbol that could be comprehended, something wordless and
formless that he could enfold and understand, and then he recreated the image so that she would know he
understood it.  ‘Aeryn will be back, I will wait for Aeryn.”
 

She staggered back into two sets of hands, sweating and panting as though she had run ten metras with full
battle gear.  The hands guided her out of the pool and set her down to sit on warm tiles.  She rested her arms
on her folded knees, still working to catch her breath as she looked back into the pool to see how John had
reacted to her departure.  At first she thought her vision had blurred from her mental exertion, but it was only
that it had begun raining harder beneath the dome.  The downpour had simply obscured the group in the pool.  

Aeryn slid across the tiles to sit at the edge of the pool.  The rain increased in intensity, soaking into her hair
until a small trickle of water streamed out of her braid non-stop.  From where she sat, she could see one of
John’s hands floating laxly on the surface, fingers jostling loosely in the bubbles swirling around him.  The body
beneath the surface still twitched and jerked at random as the nerve impulses continued to misfire, but he was
relaxed and no longer fought their attentions in any way.  The delvians continued to work over him silently, their
capacity for healing invisible except for the gradual change it was effecting on John’s nervous system.   

Meylan waded away from the group and lifted himself without effort to sit next to her on the edge of the pool.  
“That was exceptional, especially for someone who has received no training.  That was exactly the level of
reassurance he needed.  We can work with him now without fighting his fear.”  He looked at her carefully, spoke
to her even more cautiously.  “You must be a very good friend.”  

“I love him,” Aeryn said simply and without strain.  It was the first time she had admitted that to a stranger, but it
seemed so obvious after what had just transpired, she did not feel as though she were admitting anything of
consequence.  Meylan smiled and moved back into the center of the pool where the others had begun to sing a
quiet chanting harmony over Crichton’s healing body.  

                                                                               * * * * *

He was warm and everything around him was without pressure.  The world hissed at him, slid across his skin in
a symphony of mixed, random sensations.  There was a feeling like millions of bugs crawling on every inch of
his skin, the firm massage that found every muscle he never knew he had, the shocking pain of every small
touch, the deep abiding ache that told him he had exceeded every natural capacity of his anatomy, and over
there … over near where he wouldn’t look there was …

PAIN!

He touched it by accident, tried to pull away before it consumed him, but it drew him in, devoured him in a single
convulsive gulp, and began to digest the small part of him that remained.  There wasn’t a place inside him that
could scream, no place to hide, no place where he could escape the savaging storm that he had inadvertently
let loose upon himself.  He began to dissolve, shattering back into the pieces that they had so painstakingly
reassembled into something they had told him was ‘John’.  He fled before it, seeking a place where it could not
follow.

Pause.  

Wait.  

Return to the place where it hurts.  

There was a reason he had to be here, a reason he had to stay and endure the pain.  He puzzled at it,
worrying away at the mystery that beckoned him back to this place.  Aeryn!  He had to endure because Aeryn
told him to wait here.  This was where Aeryn said she would come back for him, so this was where he had to
wait.  

And there were the touches … the touches … he had to stay in order to examine the other thing that was
happening to him.  Someone was touching him.  But it wasn’t the Others.  These touches had no intention of
hurt. The hands were trying to relax muscles that had suddenly gone from quiescent to suspension bridge
taught.  They were working into his joints, relieving the deep abiding soreness.  They moved down his spine
leaving a moment of quiet behind as they probed around each vertebrae and nerve bundle.  They stroked his
stomach as he arched against the pain and the muscles sucked in of their own accord, the contracting fibers
remembering better than he what they were supposed to do when it hurt like this.  

Gentle digits tested every part of his body and left a fleeting cessation of the discomfort before moving on.  The
pain moved back in every time, flooding back like the water that flowed all around him, but they were building a
barricade piece by piece with each touch, and the overall effect was one of a reprieve from discomfort.  The
pain brought the memories that must not be remembered.  He pushed those images carefully into the place
that was reserved for the unthinkable and let the hands do whatever they wanted, his trust in the touches
almost absolute.

Aeryn had come, she would return, and he was safe at last.  

He hoped that when Aeryn returned, she would tell him who he was.  


                                                                          * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chapter 2                                                                                                                                                                                   Chapter 4
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