Child Of The Night - Chapter 5

They had come for him earlier.  Both groups had been there, although not at the same time.  The large
indistinct forms had breached the walls first, the ones with the heavy hands and cruel intentions.  He had tried
to run away, only to have his flight arrested when the pain returned, leaving him gasping his new breathing
medium in terror.  He had huddled into his own shadow, pressing himself into an ever smaller space and hoping
they wouldn’t notice him.  They had been drawing closer when the presence of the second set of visitors had
banished them.  

The patient, serene ones had eased into his quiet dreaming space, enquiring before they entered.  He had
welcomed their presence and they had let him cry out his fear, not understanding entirely, but offering soothing
touches anyway.  They had asked him to stretch out, to roll over on his back and straighten out, and when he
could not move they had helped him.  The mass of hands had covered his chest as they had before, except for
one set that remained to reassure him when the pressure and pain began.  

It had seemed to go on forever, but then again all things seemed eternal in this place.  

At the height of the pain, his left arm had tried to thrash on its own.  A single pair of hands had attended to the
sharp, stabbing tightness in his shoulder, easing but not removing the radiating spikes of pain while holding his
limb tight against a recurrence of the uncontrolled movement.  The pressure built until he felt as though his
chest was about to explode, and he called to the one at his head, asking for it to stop.  

Almost over, it was almost over, the refrain rang in his mind.  

He felt worse than he had at any time since he had found this quiet dreaming place.  He felt as though he were
dying.  

Aeryn!  He couldn’t die again because of what it would do to Aeryn.  They had to make sure he didn’t die again.

Almost over, the thought returned to his mind.  

The liquid breath stopped in his throat, the hands seemed to disappear although he knew they were still there,
and all that he was faded into the darkness.  

                                                                              * * * * *

John was in the smaller, deeper pool where the delvians had chosen to place him while making the repairs to
his heart.  He had curled up into the fetal position and, without the air in his lungs to help him float, had sunk to
hover halfway between the bottom of the pool and the surface.  The water continued to fizz as the excess
oxygen escaped, but this enclosure was warm and dry, a pleasant change from the cool drizzle that persisted in
the other chamber.  The air was being drawn out of this room from near the ceiling, driven in part by the even
heat radiating from the entire floor.   

With the exception of Aeryn, it was the first time any of the crew had seen John since they had brought him to
the moon, and they were all in various stages of shock.  D’Argo and Chiana joined Aeryn at the side of the pool
where they all knelt down in order to get a better look at the submerged, floating Crichton.  Rygel hovered over
the center of the watery enclosure, perhaps getting the best view of John and his resting place.  Jool walked
around to the far side of the pool where she could watch the others.  Questions, answers, and exclamations
echoed off the tiled walls for hundreds of microts.

“Can he breathe in there?” the Dominar asked.  “I did not know his species could extract oxygen from water.”  

“Isn’t he going to get all wrinkly the way Crichton does when he takes long showers?”  Chiana’s question
sounded before Rygel’s could be answered.  

A delvian specialist was standing with them, explaining everything as they slowly recovered from their initial
disbelief.  “The liquid is super-saturated with oxygen.  His lungs will function no differently than usual, and this is
the medium in which they grew.  It is difficult for one such as John Crichton to adjust to the fluid moving through
the passageways, but once that is habituated this is actually very beneficial for his breathing.  The fluid is
matched to his physiology.  There is the correct balance of minerals to match his cellular structure, so his skin
will remain unaffected by long submersion.”  

“They said it wasn’t really water,” Aeryn said, remembering her own shock when she had first seen John’s new
environment.  

“It is close,” acknowledged their guide, “but carefully maintained to sustain John Crichton and keep him
healthy.”  

D’Argo listened to the flow of questions and answers, and finally let out an angry snarl.  

“Is there some point not to your liking?”  The delvian was immediately concerned.  

“Yes,” D’Argo admitted slowly, stringing the word out in a low growl.  

Chiana laughed, as always, and said, “It’s just going to be too much like taking a bath for D’Argo.”  The look on
D’Argo’s face was a wordless confirmation that Chiana had hit the target dead center.  The delvian healer
opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it without responding, looking uncertainly at the tall luxan
dressed in the quilted clothes.

“It does not matter,” D’Argo grumbled.  “I will participate in Meetings with John as many times as is necessary.  
I simply wish it did not have to be in there.”  

Aeryn grinned at his complaint, feeling more light-hearted than she had at any time since John had been
captured.  The prognosis was in question, John’s recovery was far from certain, and even if they could get him
to abandon the refuge inside his mind there was no guarantee that he would ever be the man he had been
before his capture.  But for the first time since she had seen him lying on the scarran’s table, she felt that there
was a chance that he might recover.  

She knelt at the edge of the pool, leaning close to the water in order to watch John as he floated quietly.  
Although many of the small ticks and twitches remained, most of the large, random muscle contractions had
stopped, responding to the nearly constant efforts to repair his nervous system.  His eyes were open, and he
was breathing more easily.  The one thing that had not changed was the complete lack of awareness or
intelligence in the body beneath her.  Aeryn tried to remember a time when John had ever looked so senseless
or so … empty.  Only his first night’s sleep after being rescued from the Gammak Base had come close, and
that death-like coma had not been nearly as disturbing as the stillness of this apparently deserted vessel.

“Come back, John,” she implored to him in a whisper.  “Be strong.  Do not leave me.”  

Behind her, the flow of questions eased and then trickled to a stop as the expertise of their guide satisfied all of
their concerns.  

“What about his heart?” she asked into the ensuing silence.  “Were you able to repair it completely?  His
species is very susceptible to that type of damage.”      

“The healing was completed during the night.  We are convinced that there will be no adverse effects from the
injury. His condition will be closely monitored during the remainder of his time here to ensure that his heart
operates normally.”  

The delvian stripped off his robes, slid smoothly into the water, and gathered Crichton up from near the
bottom.  He placed his hands opposite each other on the center of John’s back and chest, and then his eyes
shifted to a solid, inward-looking blue and he went entirely still.  He smiled suddenly.  

“What is it?” asked Jool.  “What have you found?”

“I comprehend the symmetry now, and understand what was missing during the past days.  It is not a
particularly well-designed organ, but there is an elegance to its construction.  Very interesting.”  He ran his
hands over Crichton’s torso, neck and head in a proprietary manner then nudged him into a descent to where
he had been floating.  “His physical condition is much improved.  He should have no problem coping with the
psychological struggle now.”  

                                                                              * * * * *

John?  

She was there, he had to answer -- he had to wake up from his dying state and answer.

John Crichton, come talk to me.  

Am I alive?  

You certainly are, and you are not leaving until I give you permission.  

AERYN!

She was thrown back by his elation, tossed almost completely out of his mind by the force of his arrival.  Daaren
caught her mentally before she tumbled all of the way out, nudging her back to where she had been.  She
moved forward more slowly the second time, searching cautiously, and was puzzled to discover that John was
absent when she got back to where they had met only microts earlier.  

John?  She tried a gentle probe, not understanding why or how he had disappeared.  

The touch, when it wafted toward her, was meek and contrite.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to do it.  

She attempted a mental laugh.  You did not do anything wrong.  

Aeryn’s back!  I’m alive!  Aeryn, I don’t hurt much anymore.  

His happiness was intoxicating, rolling over both of them in waves that emanated entirely from him.  She could
feel the ease in his body.  The persistent aches were almost entirely gone, and the taut feeling in his stomach
that had been mistaken as hunger was missing.  Her connection with him allowed her to understand that it had
been a careful tension waiting to try in vain to control the sporadic arrhythmias coming from his damaged
heart.  Now there was only a relaxed feeling behind his sternum, and a pleasant emptiness that waited for food.

I did something new today!  

The simple joy was conveyed from his mind to hers, a large, easily translated symbol, encased in pride and
pleasure.  He was so pleased with his new accomplishment.  She asked him to tell her about it.  

I SLEPT.  

The shock tossed her all of the way out of his mind this time.  She released her grip and turned to look first at
Daaren and then up at where all four of her shipmates were waiting to see how her Meeting progressed.  They
were hoping to learn something, but the only outward manifestation they had observed so far was her
motionless position at John’s head.  

“He hasn’t slept?  This was the first time?  The first time in … how many days?”  She kept her voice low, trying
to control her disbelief as she counted back, trying to remember how long they had been on the moon.  

Daaren nodded.  “His mental state has been one very close to dreaming, but he has not experienced the
complete surcease of consciousness since the injuries occurred.  This is a very encouraging step in his
recovery, and dreaming will provide him with an avenue of healing unlike no other.”

“Just dreaming?” Chiana asked.  The shipmates glanced at each other.  A complex waltz of unspoken thoughts
shifted from one person to another, ricocheting around the group as they all considered Crichton’s long history
with emotionally charged nightmares.  

“We will monitor him to forestall any nightmares, at least until we feel he will benefit from the catharsis
sometimes offered by frightening visions.”  The blue-skinned mystic still had not moved away from Crichton,
patiently waiting until Aeryn was ready to resume the Meeting.  She willingly placed her hands inside his and
slid back into Crichton’s mind.    

She had to go looking for him again.  He had withdrawn into another ball of inexplicable guilt.  His reaction was
the same as the first time.  

I didn’t mean to do it.  

What did you do?  

I made you leave.  I’m sorry.  

You did not do anything wrong; nothing is your fault.  

She eased around him, trying to envelope him in reassurance as she had the first time she had visited him
inside his mind.  John seemed to melt into her, letting every guard down, exposing everything that he was and
knew.  She faltered and he started to bolt again.  

Get back here, John Crichton!  

He stopped and eased back.  Is it all right?  Can I be here?  You don’t mind?  

No, I don’t mind.  She wondered how a person managed to sigh mentally.  

Aeryn surrounded the mental touch that she knew she could never live without, and let all of her tension and
worry flow away from them both.  Just as she thought her own reservoir of concern was empty, the flood was
doubled, tripled, turning into a torrent of anxiety that coursed out of him, swept past her, and disappeared.  
They sighed on the same breath, not because they were joined, but because they were designated to be
together always.  

That felt so good.  There was so little left inside him now that all of that stuff was gone.  He was tired.  He was
so very tired now.
 

Should I go?  Should I leave you in your tiredness so you can try this new ‘sleep’ thing again?  

No.  Please don’t go yet.  Because … because … because … Aeryn?  Who is this?  

He showed her a memory he had found, a memory of a lean figure with silvery gray hair, dressed in a bulky
white apparatus and carrying a large helmet.  She was lucky.  She knew who it was.  She sent the answer
sailing, a gestalt of who and what it meant.  

Dad?  A father?  I don’t remember.  

You will.  It will all come back, don’t worry.  

She felt someone beckoning and knew she had been here longer than she had thought.  

They’re going to make you leave aren’t they?  

Yes, it’s time for me to go.  Does that bother you?  

I know them.  They’re the Nice People you told me about.  You can go, I’ll wait here.  

She felt him settle down into a relaxed position, lacking any inclination to accompany her.  It was too soon to
expect anything else.  She gave him a mental caress, sent a symbol sailing toward him that conveyed an
assurance that she would return very soon, and then, once she felt that John had captured the image and
understood it, she let herself be pulled away.  

                                                                              * * * * *

Aeryn tugged her tunic down into place, welcoming the warmth that lingered there from the heated tiles.  “There’
s so little of him left,” she said to everyone waiting by the side of the pool.  She had been close to tears as she
had climbed out of the water and had described the revelation that had almost driven her out of John’s mind for
a third time.  “He opened up completely, showed me everything that he knew of himself.  There’s --”  Her voice
cracked into silence, forcing her to start over.  “There’s almost nothing left.  Too much of him has been
destroyed.”  She felt the burning sting develop behind her eyes, and looked away from the others, trying to
prevent the tears that promised to breach her control.   

“This was a mistake.”  Chiana’s subdued remark seemed to speak for them all.  Aeryn nodded, her face hidden
behind her hands.  

“You are wrong.”  

The flatly delivered statement jolted them out of their depressed reveries.  

“What he showed you was everything he has access to right now.  More exists but has been cut off from his
ability to find it by damage.”  Meylan moved into their midst, displacing Daaren who slowly backed out of the
group.  “He is fighting hard to survive; you must do at least as much.”  He was chastising them in the kindest of
terms.  “I know this is not easy for any of you, but you need to consider that this is the first day in quite some
time that he has been comfortable physically.  Now that his psyche is no longer focused on the corporeal, he
should begin to make greater strides with the mental and spiritual.  Give him time and --”

“Patience!”  

Meylan jumped as five voices chanted the last word at him.  They were all smiling now, even if a bit weakly.  
They had hope.  

                                                                              * * * * *

D’Argo volunteered to try a Meeting with John next.  Chiana accompanied him to watch how it was done.  They
stood together, waiting while two of the healers who specialized in physical injuries slid into the pool and
gradually pulled John out of his tightly curled position.  His body resisted at first, but they repeatedly eased his
limbs straight until he finally floated stretched out on his back.  They brought him closer to the surface in order
to examine him, performing the inspection entirely by touch.  Crichton twitched and jerked under their hands,
his nervous system spurred into more random signals by their handling.  They ignored the reaction, persisting
until they had run their fingers over his entire body and seemed satisfied with his condition.  

“John.  Why couldn’t we have gotten there sooner, John?” D’Argo breathed, watching the spastic responses to
the delvians’ examination.  

“It’s not your fault, D’Argo.”  Chiana rubbed his shoulder, sympathizing with the distraught luxan.  “He was doing
what he wanted to … what he really, really wanted to be doing when he got caught.  Crichton was making sure
that Aeryn and the rest of us got away safely before he followed.  You know you could not have stopped him
from doing that.”

D’Argo did not bother to answer.  He pulled off the quilted shirt and pants, leaving only a pair of tight fitting
shorts, and slid into the water to stand next to the Pa’u who had joined the other two delvians.  He let them
guide his hands to John’s head and focused all of his attention on his desire to have his friend restored to him,
a technique that Aeryn had suggested.  He allowed that single desire to consume him.    

It was quiet.  The stillness was complete except for a hissing that increased and faded in time with the waves of
bubbles that washed across his skin, stroking it into the painful random responses that had become a constant
in this existence.  The sensations shifted and mutated endlessly, changing from one equally uncomfortable
feeling to the next, each set of signals as confused as the one before.  He was supposed to feel wet, but he
itched, ached, burned, felt as though he had been flayed raw, went back to a horrible nameless discomfort, and
began the random cycle again.

Pulses from the waves rocked him, urging him to allow his attention to drift away from the migration of
sensations.  He swallowed warm water and was surrounded by warmth, making the vibrations in his nervous
system bearable.  The warm flood was in his chest, his throat, his stomach and had worked its way into his ears
and sinuses.  It was an all-encompassing heat creating complete lassitude.  He tried to curl up, but whoever
had disturbed him was insisting that he lie flat, and he had not managed to find the place where his muscles
obeyed his desires.  

The hiss of the bubbles was broken by a double cadence, twin heartbeats sounding near his head.  D’Argo
knew that it was his own hearts he was hearing, sensed through the ears of another.  He caught himself on the
sound and followed it back to the person who was really hearing it.  He found him lying lazily on his back,
enjoying the way the steady double whump-thump echoed inside his head.  D‘Argo hung there, just shy of
making contact, not wanting to move any closer because he was so pleased to find John in this quiet place and
he did not want to cause the tranquil moment to end.  

Long enough, a mentality told him, showing him that time did not flow the same way in this floating place, and
he moved carefully toward the mesmerized personality.  

Hello John.  

Do I know you?  The fear-laden concern blossomed in a chest that had room for another kind of ache now that
the stabbing pain was gone.
 

I am Ka D’Argo and we are friends.  

Aeryn didn’t tell me you were coming, I’m not sure, I don’t know, I don’t think this is right.  Large figures, huge
figures, non-human figures doing something, something he refused to remember.  He would NOT remember
that. This was not human, this was a large lurking presence with aggression in its soul.

D’Argo felt him skitter away, on the verge of bolting completely, and sought a way of remaining calm despite a
burst of frustration.  He envisioned Jothee as a young child, sampled that protective love, and then reached out
with paternal concern and indulgence.  The frightened mentality hesitated, stopped its retreat.  

Let me show you, John.  Come back one step, and let me show you how we know each other.  

One step?  ONE step?  

There was a timid reconnoiter.  

I can take just one step.  

One more, John, I can’t show you if you stay where you are now.  Just one more.  

One, one, one … I can take one more step.  He eased closer, wary to the point of explosion.  

D’Argo showed him.    

He turned from his stance on Command and saw the hated Peacekeeper standing uncertain, looking
inexplicably afraid, dressed in a strange orange garment.  The snared sebacean gave a queer smile and
waved slightly, uttered odd words, all Peacekeeper arrogance quenched by his capture.  The rage against his
captors welled up inside his two hearts and in three long strides he had the figure by the throat, lifting him up
with the intention of either getting the desired information out of him or killing him, not necessarily in that order.  
His bellowed question brought no answer, and he prepared himself to snap the soldier’s neck.  There was a
whine and the yellow flash of a DRD near his feet, and the unit injected the captive with something.  Translator
microbes?  It was the only thing possible, but what kind of Peacekeeper lacked them, he asked himself.  
Frustration and anger threatened to rule him, but a choking answer was being uttered.  

Flip over, tuck yourself inside your own body and turn inside out, and that might be what it felt like.  Queasy,
momentarily nauseous, and he was the one hanging from an unbelievably strong hand.  Reality had deserted
him long before the module had been drawn into this ship.  Nothing made any sense at this point.  He struggled
for air and listened to garbled noises, ridiculous thoughts running through his head even as he fought against
the grip that was slowly strangling him.  ‘Whoa, Rastafarian octopus got that guy by the head!’  There was a
figure of blue elegance standing serenely in the midst of chaotic insanity, a look of stressed amusement and
suspicion on her face.  He felt love blossom immediately, without any understanding of why it had happened.  A
sharp pain in his foot, and his world shook itself and gave hearing back.  The deep barking garble separated
itself into words -- the first step toward understanding a new life that could not be understood.    

Reverse flip, turn outside in, and D’Argo found himself drifting with John again, a joyous shout full of new
symbols and images ringing inside his mind.  

D’ARGO!  I know D’Argo, Big Dee, Heavy Dee, Big Guy, Rasta-man, my friend!!  

For the first time, he understood the terms and what each one meant to John.  

Not confidence yet, but some trust, the double heartbeats bringing more serenity to the jumbled collection that
raced around chaotically in his mind.  

I’m here, John, I will be here whenever you need me.  All you will need to do is reach out and ask, and I will
come to help you.  

D’Argo, D’Argo, D’Argo will come.  He cast about wildly -- excitement, hope, and fear tangling into an emotional
mess.  D’Argo!  You’ll help when I need you?
 

The fear was back, the tiny remaining molecule instantaneously expanding into an enveloping miasma that
invaded every portion of his mind as it moved in to possess the thoughts that had once been John.  

Yes, I will help you whenever you need me, he assured the mind.  

D’Argo … they’re there, you have to help me now, they’re there and they want to hurt me.  Please, D’Argo, you
have to stop them.  Please don’t let them hurt me any more.
 

Show me, John, show me where they are and I’ll keep you safe.  

It was the wrong thing to suggest, driving the wary touch into full flight.  D’Argo sighed and straightened up from
his stooped position.  “I frelled that up,” he growled.  He looked at his submerged friend and wondered if they
would let him try again right away.  

“What happened, D’Argo?  What went wrong?”  Chiana was wearing just the shorts and insulated top, sitting
with her legs dangling in the water while she waited for him to finish his Meeting with Crichton.  “You must have
found him; you were there for more than an arn.”  

D’Argo shook his head, braids and tanktas swinging wildly, wordlessly expressing his disgust with himself for
frightening Crichton at the end.  

“Ka D’Argo, you established trust.  That is a significant accomplishment.  The fear he experienced was not
directed toward you.  You will be able to build on this base the next time.”  The Pa’u had reestablished physical
contact with Crichton, eyes half closed as he explored their results while he explained.  “It is rare for laypersons
such as yourselves to be able to establish a Meeting on the first attempt.  That, in and of itself, is a tribute to
your concern for his welfare.  There will be more opportunities soon.”  

“Could I go back now?” D’Argo asked.  “I want him to know that I did not mean to scare him.”  

The priest smiled tolerantly.  “I believe he knows that, but his awareness is not quite as ordered as the images
you experienced might suggest.  He is calm now, but he is also quite tired.  There will be adequate time to try
again over the next days.”  

                                                                              * * * * *

Chiana was lecturing herself as she moved slowly into the quiet realm.  Calm, calm, calm, calm and easy.  This
was like creeping up on a flibisk that knows it’s being hunted.  D’Argo and Aeryn had described their
experiences to her, and warned her of Crichton’s new suspicious nature.  

She found him drifting in the encompassing warmth they had tried without success to explain to her.  

It was beyond warmth, beyond buoyancy.  It was life itself, peace without qualification, a deep and abiding
security, an anodyne against the memories that he was fighting not to remember.  She found him drifting in the
heat, feeling like he was napping in a hammock on a hot summer day.  He was annoyed that they would not let
him curl up into the position that felt so right, that made him feel so secure, but the displeasure was so minor, it
was almost non-existent.  He wanted to stretch, to feel the pleasant tug of muscles against the underlying
skeleton, but movement was forbidden, and every small motion set off the crawling discomfort anyway.  He
basked in the heat, satisfied that it was his entire world.  That was where she found him, her greeting bursting
out of her on a wave of excitement.  

Hey, Old Man!!  

“Frell.”  Chiana slid her hands out from under Lorana’s and started to move away.  “I scared him away.”  

“Try again,” Lorana coaxed.  

Chiana looked up at Aeryn and Rygel, who were watching from the tiled expanse next to the pool.  Aeryn
nodded encouragement.  

“He took off like a scalded drannit,” Chiana said morosely.  “He was moving so fast, I don’t think I’m going to be
able to find him.”  

Lorana took her more firmly by the hands and led her back to the floating patient.  “He is still relaxed.  You
startled him, but he was not frightened.  I think you may be able to locate him more easily than you expect.”  
Aeryn thought she heard the beginning of laughter in the priest’s quiet words, but Lorana’s back was turned so
she could not be sure.  

Chiana let her hands be guided into place and looked down at the dark hair ruffling in the currents.  “Calm and
easy, calm and easy,” she chanted to herself, and then concentrated on the image of having Crichton back
aboard Moya with them, healthy and whole.  

OLD MAN!!  

It was his yell this time, and it startled her to the point that she almost bolted from his mind.  There was delvian
laughter in her mind as she was steadied and pushed back toward the bright spark of excitement.  

I’m Old Man, I remember, but who are you? … uh, you’re gray.  Wait!  You’re supposed to be gray.  I know, I
know, I know you! … Who are you?
 

She waited for his confused exhilaration to die down.  I’m Chiana.  She felt the thought run around in circles
without finding an anchor in his mind.  Can I show you, Crichton?  Will you let me show you?  

He skittered away, bounded back, took another step away, and stopped.  Did they send you?  Did THEY send
you?
 

Who, Old Man?  

The Nice People.  The people who make the pain go away, and scare away the Others.  

Yes, that’s who brought me here.  

Scuttle closer, retreat, bounce further away, ease back, closer, closer.  A whisper of a touch, curiosity
overcoming fright, investigating what it meant to have gray skin.  

Show me?  

She showed him.  

Abiding despair that she had been captured and was facing a personal destruction too terrible to contemplate.  
A heartless machine on two legs forcing her forward into strange surroundings to stand next to one of the
mindless corpses they had created, a reminder of her fate, the promised destruction of all that she was and
ever had been.  Her hands bound, every movement controlled by the collar that ensured she had no volition,
no choice to be a person.  She looked up and saw the curiosity, concern for the bound and restrained stranger
showing plainly in his face.  Broad shoulders, blue eyes, muscles showing plainly beneath the gray shirt, his
body telling her that he understood the degradation of bondage and wanted to see her released.  She was
towed away, looking back to plead silently for her salvation.  

Upside down, turn around, a contortionist’s trick.  He looked at the collar and bound hands and fought to keep
from lunging forward to attack the gray skinned minder.  Black eyes burrowing into his, seeking forgiveness,
release, sexual affirmation of life.  The image of his sister that had sprung into his mind without summons
vanished under that gaze.  Temptation to go after them to discover who this criminal was, to see if she was as
wrongfully accused as he had been, pursued in innocence, hounded across the stars because of a
misconception.  He worried about what the others would think, these beings he depended on for continued
survival.  They were his only hope for life, so he pondered and watched her disappear into the passageway.

Turn around, upside down, turned right side out.  We’re a fine pair of refugees, aren’t we Crichton?  

Chiana, I’m sorry that you’re alone.  

Loneliness isn’t necessary anymore, Old Man, we’re here and we love you.

I know, I know, I know … what else do I know?  

He was sad and plaintive, searching for something more, seeking something else for her to show him so that
she wouldn’t leave him here alone.  She had been told about this, warned what to do, so she bound herself up
in the concern for his long-term welfare and sent the thought they had all rehearsed.  It wasn’t a big symbol, but
it was complex and she had to get it right.  

I’ll be nearby, Crichton.  I’ll be just over there and you can come visit me soon.  Someone will be here to visit
you later, but you can come to see us if you want.  

NoNoNo.  I’ll stay here, and you can stay here too.  You don’t have to leave?  Do you?  

You can come any time you are ready.  She moved away.  He held his ground, not tempted to follow.  

Don’t go, please stay.  

I’ll be back.  

Chiana was lifted clear of the water, embraced in a warm towel and hard muscled arms.  Her vision cleared,
sharpening as she wiped tears from her eyes.  She was leaning against Aeryn, something she never would
have expected.  The former soldier did not ask her what had happened, just held her until the crying stopped
and then let her sit up on her own.  

Chiana turned to look at Aeryn and Rygel.  “He’s so lonely and scared.”  

“Did you do what we discussed?” Aeryn asked, both elated that they had found their first opportunity to urge
John away from his refuge and heartbroken that he was still frightened.   

“Yes.  It was hard, but I told him he could come out whenever he wanted and then I left.”  She wanted to say
more, but the lump in her throat clogged the words.  Crichton had been released and hovered alone in the
pool, curled up tightly seeking the security of his most basic memory.  Their view of him cleared for a microt as
a mass of warm water billowed to the surface, acting like a lens to reveal the curled hands resting alongside
both sides of his head, mouth open as he tried to breathe something thicker than air.  

“Let’s go talk with the others,” Aeryn suggested.  Each person had pledged to reveal everything they had
learned while Meeting with John, putting aside their individual concerns about privacy in the interest of making
each trip more productive.  

“Aeryn.”  Chiana stared at the lean ex-Peacekeeper, wondering if she should ask the question now or later.  
The enquiring look encouraged her to ask it now.  “What is that thought about ‘Others’ that has him so
worried?”  Aeryn’s blank look told her that they had something else to find out.  

                                                                             * * * * *

Jool tried next and was abruptly tossed out of his mind three times in a row.  Her hair turned an iridescent
shade of red at the rejection, but Tahleen assured her that it was almost certainly Crichton’s fatigue and not
her personality causing the problem.  Aeryn caught a delvian smile of devious amusement as Jool disappeared
through the doorway leading from the chamber.  

“John’s not tired?”  

“He is quite well rested.  Desire to help and an ability to subordinate one’s own ego tend to be the keys to a
joining of this type.”  Tahleen watched as Rygel floated into the chamber on his throne sled and dropped into
the larger pool with almost no splash, leaving his chair floating near one of the benches.  “It is a wasted
opportunity, however.  He is not resisting.  He merely could not establish any sort of communication with her
and became frustrated enough to close her out.”    

The dark green form popped to the surface and Rygel smiled in delight.  “This is the correct size of a dominar’s
bath.  It is simply too bad that there aren’t the correct number of attendants.”  He looked from Tahleen to Aeryn
and his untroubled expression shifted to one of concern.  “Why are you both looking at me like that?”

                                                                              * * * * *

Crichton, where the yotz are you?  

Who are YOU?  Do you belong here?  

Of course I belong here, I am …  

Wait! I remember you, I remember, I know who you are!  You’re KERMIT!  

I am not.  I am Dominar Rygel the Sixteenth.  I am a hynerian of the highest royal house, and I have no idea
who this Kermit person is.  

Oh.  

The chastised mentality retreated, returned to see what he was like, and backed away timidly.  You’re kind of
like the Others only smaller.  Did they send you?  He backed away, anxiety pushing him away faster and
faster.  

Fear.  An emotion with which he was all too familiar.  It did not seem to go well with the huge ugly personality.  

I’m ugly?  

More anxiety washed over Rygel, a product of his own carelessness with his thoughts.  No, you are said to be
very good looking for your species.  

The bundle of randomized thoughts plonked itself down a small distance away to consider this new problem.  
What was ugly?  What was he that was ugly?  What part of him was this ugly part?  

Crichton, you are not ugly.  I should not have made that thought about you.  I’m sorry.  

Sorrysorrysorry.  Regret, remorse, disappointment, grief.  A new set of symbols were discovered, but they had
to be considered carefully, turned over and over until he could determine where they fit in the flow of symbols
that sailed around him now.
 

Crichton … Crichton, pay attention.  John?  

I’m John … right?  

Perhaps I should leave now.  

Aren’t you going to show me anything?  The others showed me things.  

Do you want me to show you something?  

That would be okay.  The others showed me when we met, is that what I get to see?  When we met?  The
enthusiasm was building again, the anxious mental wandering falling back before the wonder.
 

No, this day is more appropriate.  He showed him a day when his actions had doomed Crichton and D’Argo to a
heroic sacrifice like none other he had ever seen, when Crichton’s compassion had taught him a lesson and
bonded his loyalty to the gangling human forever.  “Rygel, I believe doing the right thing begins at the start of
the day.”  There had been a quick pressure on his head, one of the human embraces they used in place of a
proper kiss, and he had known that he had been forgiven.  He braced himself for the flip, the change in
viewpoint they had warned him about, but it did not happen.  

I remember that now.  I was angry with you but it didn’t matter anymore.  And there was something wrong inside
my head.  Something terrible had happened recently … what was it?  What had happened before that?
 

Rygel thought of the mental rape that Crichton had suffered in the Aurora Chair and compared it to his present
condition.  That had been almost gentle compared to this.  He bound those images up and kept them
obscured.  

There had been a battle and you were wounded, he told the inquisitive mind.  

I was … I was wounded … Who is I?  Who is John?  Where is he and what is he like?  Can you tell me?  Will
you stay here and show me?
 

Rygel saw his chance to do what he had been told.  I can’t stay right now, Crichton.  But you can come with me
if you like, any time you wish to depart you are welcome to accompany me.  

I don’t think so.  I think it’s better if I stay here.  You can go though, I’ll understand.  

Rygel let himself be drawn away, feeling the warm water washing around his appropriately dimensioned body
even as he looked back to see the hunched figure sitting alone.  

“Rygel?  What happened?”  

He looked at Aeryn in confusion; he was having trouble adjusting to the light and noise around him.  “What do
you mean what happened?  I found him, I talked to him, I left.  Are you questioning my capacity to complete
such a simple task?”  He floated easily, overly buoyant in the abnormally salty fluid, glaring his challenge at
her.  “Why do you ask?”  

“Because a few microts ago you looked like you were about to cry, and I’ve never seen that happen before.”  
Aeryn turned away and lifted herself out of the pool, leaving the hynerian to duck under the water where he
could hide the evidence of his compassion.


                                                                        * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chapter 4                                                                                                                                                                                  Chapter 6
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