Child Of The Night - Chapter 6
Aeryn claimed the next turn in the pool, convinced that John would need her reassurance by that time. She
was also intent on finding out who the ‘Others’ were that had John both worried and secretive. The assembled
crew had discussed it several times and had come to the conclusion that the symbol was what John was using
to cover up his terror of the scarrans. The thought of him continuing his battle inside his mind day and night
had driven her from the bed provided by their hosts, and she spent the arns sitting at the side of the pool
watching him drift.
The delvians continued to make cautious forays into his mind almost constantly, only withdrawing in order to let
him sleep. Their gentle probing sought signs of physical and neural damage as part of the slow, tedious
repairs to his physiology. Aeryn had not been able to sleep much of the previous night either, and had spent
the arns sitting silently beside the pool, watching as two of the priests took turns easing into the fringes of his
shattered mind. She had heard him crying several times, an echo of his distress ringing in her mind without the
customary filter of passing through her ears. She’d had to exert the most rigid self-control possible in order to
prevent herself from sliding into the water and going to soothe him.
‘Aeryn!’ he had cried out at last, scared by the strangers who insisted on testing the walls that surrounded the
quiet dreaming place.
‘It’s all right, John,’ she had sent back, not even sure she could reach him without the help of a Pa’u or the
proximity of touching him. ‘They’re the Nice People. Don’t be afraid.’ For over an arn, she had stared at the
motionless, submerged body, concentrating on those three small sentences, and the mental distress had slowly
eased to the point that it was no longer detectable.
The slow exploration of his body and the constant surveying of his neural pathways had continued for arns.
By morning, both the healers and the gradually healing were exhausted. Meylan had warned them that each
improvement would set off a cascade of signals illuminating other injuries. It would be a long and laborious
process, and John would be subjected to new and random sensations as they restored his systems one by
one. He had been allowed to sleep most of the morning, but it had been a fitful and restless sleep broken by
twitches, spasms, and flurries of what looked like slaps and punches. D’Argo’s attempt at a Meeting in the
afternoon had located a bewildered, exhausted mentality that had done little more than huddle against his
presence, seeking comfort and reassurances.
This latest session had yielded an extended case of the hiccups, painful enough when each spasm tried to
suck in something thicker than air. They had let it go on for three arns, hoping it would resolve itself, but had
finally adjusted the oxygen mix being provided in the watery fluid until the tiny convulsions stopped. Even after
six arns of undisturbed sleep, John looked tired, and they let him float without hindrance for an extra two arns
before they began again. Her guide this morning was Daaren, and they moved in without difficulty. It was when
she got inside that she began to experience a problem. She could not find him.
John, where are you?
It was peaceful and the light was dim. There was no answer, and she tried to decide if she would be able to tell
the difference between his normal drifting mental state and sleep. There wasn’t anything to give her direction,
so she continued moving in what she hoped was a straight line, waiting to see if anything changed. As far as
she could tell, John was not there. She sent out an inquiry and received a quiet delvian assurance that John
was present, but they could not provide any guidance as to where to look for him. Aeryn put mental hands on
her hips, and looked around in disgust.
John, where are you? She demanded an answer this time, and received only silence for her efforts. Pulling
away from the unobtrusive presence leading her into John’s mind, Aeryn reached out on her own, questing,
finding, and she was abruptly inside him, entering without volition or effort.
Sorrow and loneliness. He/she looked down at Aeryn’s still body, pale face framed by the loose dark hair.
He/she had found a memory and was trapped within it. No, she/he commanded, you/I don’t have to remember
this, we can go somewhere else. Where else would we go, they asked themselves. This is our soul lying
before us, dead by our actions. It wasn’t us, she/he screamed, trying to break through. This wasn’t us; it was
She/he took him/her to the cockpit of the module, to remind them of what it had felt like to sit trapped and
helpless within their own body, unable to stop, unable to speak, unable to warn her what the twisted mentality
intended to do. She/he saw for the first time that Scorpius hadn’t been trying to kill Aeryn, he had been trying
to destroy the remaining resistance that was John, to take away the thing that would allow him/her to continue
to resist. They relived the moment, the impact, then the release from the neurochip’s control so he/she could
watch helplessly without the buffering of someone else’s intellect, maximizing the guilt and loss.
They forced them away from the memory. We are here now; we are alive and whole and we love us.
Yes, yes, yes, yes, we are here and we love us.
Now we must do something for us instead, we must come back, we must fight and return the same way that we
returned with Zhaan’s help.
Now? Do we fight to return now? We are confused and we hurt. We want to stay here longer where it is safe.
Do we have to return now? So soon? They were filled with foreboding and fear, wanting to fulfill their
expectations and love, but holding back because of the unknown visions that lurked along the edges of their
They tried to ease toward that corner, taking them toward the shadowy figures that waited there so they could
see what it was that scared them.
John broke away, startling her with his vehemence. Don’t be afraid! Aeryn tried to catch him. It was too late;
he was gone. She tried to move closer to the shadows, but without his help to control the images the figures
remained indistinct. She tried reaching out toward John with the blanket of calm reassurance, hoping that if she
could simply make contact with him, it would be enough to bring the shadowy, poorly formed images into focus.
But John had put up a block and she could not get near him. She could feel him next to her, rock hard and
rigid with tension, so she gave up and moved further away from the dark corner where he had hidden the
She did not withdraw. She remained next to the quivering figure until he began to relax, then she tried to
rebuild the agreement she was afraid she had just shattered in her pursuit of the answer about the ‘Others’.
Do you still trust me?
Of course! You are Aeryn.
Will you still agree to fight and return? For me?
For you? Yes, for you … but … do I have to fight against Them? … Please say ‘no’.
The last thought was almost hidden, a tiny image that she suspected he had not intended to project. Aeryn
paused, trying to decide what was correct.
Not yet, please not yet. I’ll come later. Later is good. Later is better.
You do not have to come until you’re ready, but you have to agree to be ready some day. The answer when it
came was so fragile and tenuous she almost missed it. The symbol eased away from him the way a single
thread-thin fragment of a feather floats on still air.
That’s good enough for me, John.
She moved into him again, a firmer melding that stopped short of Unity, and let him know what her heart was
feeling just then. There was an image she did not understand, something formless and indistinct. She allowed
herself another self-indulgent release of love and concern, and the response came again. It was a quiet
whimper of relief, the first mental break in the wall he had put up around the trauma that had driven him in
Come here, she summoned him.
He moved closer, the ragged fragments of his damaged consciousness rasping against the smooth torrent of
her own thoughts to remind her of the extensive injuries that remained to be healed. The progress they had
made so far was a small portion of what would be required to restore John Crichton to what he had once been.
Can I? he asked, creeping closer. Is it okay?
Yes, she sent back, finding a small amount of amusement in his trepidation.
John sighed, curled into a mental ball, and tucked himself in against her, sinking into her protectiveness until
there was nothing of him left outside her enveloping calm.
Will you … Please? … Will you make sure they don’t hurt me again?
It was the first time he had sent a thought that came close to mentioning what had been done to him. Aeryn
tightened her grip on him, holding him so close that the boundary layer began to thin and merge, the first
disorienting mélange of Unity combining their thoughts. In that pre-joining state, he knew beyond any doubt
that she would protect him with her life. The relief unleashed more of the pent-up trauma.
They floated in that manner for what felt like arns; spending the time in much the same way that D’Argo had
spent his session reassuring John. There was not enough knowledge and reasoning power available for him to
be strong on his own. Too much of his quiet dreaming place consisted of unconnected fragments, none of
which would have fit together into a larger piece even if he possessed the ability for rational thought. John
burrowed in deeper, allowing Aeryn to provide the structure that brought moments of sanity to his confused
universe. She could feel when her presence helped him retain some semblance of order. It was not a return of
sanity so much as an easing of the perpetual chaos, allowing him a few moments of relative peace. In those
moments, when the mental whirlwind left him alone for a few microts, he could almost reassemble what it felt like
to be able to think.
You have to go, he knew, feeling the summons as soon as she did.
Yes. Would you like to come with me?
NO! NoNoNoNoNo. No.
Panic returned, transforming what little remained of him into nothing more than an attempt not to remember
certain things. The peace was shattered, thoughts fragmented into millions of parts, and he reverted into an
unassembled puzzle of runaway emotions. Aeryn cursed at herself for having frightened him into a senseless
frenzy for the second time in a single session.
Do not be afraid. You do not have to come. You can stay here. His response was so muddled, she had to ask
him to repeat the images a second time in order to make some sense of the flow.
Good, good. Stay. I’ll stay. Wait for Aeryn. I’ll wait for Aeryn here.
He scuttled away from her and huddled a short distance to one side, quivering in fear. Aeryn eased toward
him, crossing the gap with infinite care. He let her touch him, submitting to her assurances until he finally
relaxed, eventually trusting her when she said that she would not force him to leave the quiet dreaming place.
Are you tired?
Can you rest?
Someone else will be here to visit later, he’ll keep you company so you’re not as lonely.
* * * * *
D’Argo stripped off his tunic as he entered the pool chamber and dropped into the water without bothering to
remove the quilted pants. Crichton’s gradual recovery had given him more strength and his desperation was
overwhelming the group trying to restrain him. His struggles were no more focused than before, muscles
reacting randomly to the signals from his brain, but that seemed to make it more difficult for them to maintain a
grip instead of less.
He had been summoned in the middle of the night by a wide-eyed acolyte who hurriedly asked him to come
help the team in the pool because Crichton was in an emotional frenzy. He looked at the foaming water around
the thrashing human and shook his head. Frenzy had been an extreme understatement. It did not look as
though there was going to be a pause or a predictable break in the movements, so he waded into the fray
without hesitating and slid his hands into place, helping the exhausted priest hold John’s head below water.
Together, they slid into Crichton’s mind with an ease born of too much practice.
Crichton was yelling incoherently. Symbols that resembled profanity mixed with disjointed syllables that flowed
from his mind in a chaotic torrent.
JOHN! I am here. I have come to help.
The mentality latched on to him in desperation. The warrior did his best to project a comforting embrace.
Crichton clung to him, frantic beyond the ability to produce recognizable symbols, and jabbered out a nearly
senseless rendition of what had frightened him. One symbol made its way through the swirling images with
suffering any distortion: desperation. Using every dench of his limited intellectual resources, John was doing
everything possible to keep a certain collection of images from taking over his existence … and it was not
enough. Desperation barely began to describe how fiercely he was fighting to prevent the memories from
They’re here. Aeryn wanted me to … She asked me to promise … I tried, I looked … they were there all along
… help me. Keep them away from me.
The level of distress flooding from John was heartbreaking. D’Argo turned his back on the frantic thoughts and
tried to find the source of his anxiety. Where are they? You have to at least show me which direction they
came from if I’m to help you.
Over there, over there. Oh God, they’re still there.
He tore loose from D’Argo and scrabbled away from the dark corner of his memory he had indicated, mindless
in his complete panic.
D’Argo positioned himself between John and the unseen threat, trying to emit an air of confidence and calm but
finding his capacity for this mental projection severely taxed. He continued trying to soothe the frightened mind
at the same time that he probed for the remembered menace.
I will not let them touch you. You don’t have to show me, just tell me who they are.
The Others, the other ones. THEM. The ones who come whenever I’m alone. They hide whenever you’re
here. They come out when everyone else leaves. Only when I’m alone, when I’m alone.
The level of panic was not diminishing. D’Argo was baffled, at a loss as to how to proceed. He remembered
Aeryn’s reminder that the delvians were always there with experience and support. He wafted the query toward
He was told to do whatever came naturally.
Stay here, John. I am going to kill them.
NO!! They’re too strong, D’Argo. I don’t want to lose you.
D’Argo bellowed in rage and defiance and charged into the shadows. There was a brief impression of several
huge lurking forms, then the darkness lifted and they were gone. He returned to stand next to the curled,
whimpering remains of his friend.
They’re gone now. They’ve left and they know we will protect you.
For good? Are they gone for good?
I do not know. John, we are always here if you need our help. You do not have to fight them alone. I will come
whenever you need me.
Don’t leave me here, take me with you. They scare me.
Despite the plaintive tone, John was not stirring from his huddled position. Come with me then, you have to get
up to come with me. D’Argo felt himself being pulled away. Everyone was tired; they could not sustain this
Now, John, you have to come now because I have to leave.
No, not now, not yet. I don’t think I can. I can’t come yet.
Yes, you can.
There’s something I’m supposed to do first. Don’t leave me!
D’Argo tried to touch the lonely figure one more time, only to be drawn out of the quiet before he could make
* * * * *
Aeryn looked at the tightly curled body below her. Somehow the delvians had known that she was far more
exhausted than she ever would have admitted even to herself, and it had been D’Argo who had been
summoned during the night. He had done a better job of banishing the phantoms from John’s realm than she
might have done, but despite D’Argo’s success the nightmare had set John back almost to the beginning. She
rolled over on her back and floated, letting the heat and weightless suspension relax tired muscles.
After four attempts at a Meeting, she had not been able to locate anything more substantial than a tightly
compacted ball of anxiety. John would respond to every attempt at communication with the symbol that stood
for her name, repeating ‘Aeryn’ no matter what her question or comment. None of the others could get even
that much out of him. Meylan had tried a multiple joining along with Lorana and Tahleen, hoping that their
combined strength would allow them to reach John in the depths of his catatonia. They’d had no more success
than she had, and in the end had withdrawn hastily when they sensed that their presence was about to drive
him even farther into his own mind.
His emotional state was being reflected by his physical position. Despite a constant effort by the delvians, he
continued to wrap himself into the tightest ball possible.
There was a double splash nearby. Aeryn opened her eyes to find Chiana and Jool in the water with her.
D’Argo and Rygel were hovering on the tiles above them, waiting outside the pool.
“Let’s try one more time, Aeryn,” Jool said. “Not a Meeting. Let’s just see if we can get him to relax a bit.” The
red ringlets floated in a mass as the interon ducked under the surface and pulled on John’s arm, lifting him from
where his body was resting on the bottom. Once they had him up and made a little room, D’Argo and Rygel slid
in and they started to copy the slow easy massage they had seen the delvians use so often.
They had him again; he had been grabbed and lifted. He couldn’t look, couldn’t face it, wouldn’t look at the
Others he knew were surrounding him. He cried in despair and waited for them to begin again, waited for the
clank of the buckles against the table as they prepared it for his body and lifted him into place. He tried to
scream for help, but there was only the silence of this place, and he was alone.
The harsh grabbing never started. There wasn’t the feel of cold metal against his back.
Something different happened, something he didn’t expect.
A slow stroking by an assortment of hands began; no two quite alike. One pair seemed familiar and never left
his neck or shoulders. Strong, unhurtful fingers worked into the muscles at the base of his neck, rocking his
skull where it connected to his spine. He took a longer breath and couldn’t shift his attention away from that
wonderful sensation. Those hands moved on to work at his shoulders and he was aware of the other touches
again, working at the tense muscles in his arms, and where his legs had begun to cramp. They didn’t talk to
him or coax him to do anything; he was left in his quiet dreaming place with nothing to focus on except the
heavy strokes and the gentle pulls to straighten him out.
“He’s easing a bit,” D’Argo whispered. He caught himself and tried to talk normally. John could not hear them.
“Should we turn him on his back?”
Aeryn started to agree, then changed her mind when something occurred to her. “No, that might be too much
like being strapped to that table, even though he’s floating. Let’s try face down instead.”
He was still being pulled at, rubbed and manipulated. Nothing terrible was happening. They started to roll him
over and he took a deep breath to fight. But they weren’t putting him back THERE after all; they had him face
down and were starting on his back. It felt wonderful and he was aware that his body was relaxing. He
remembered the warm water and the touch of the bubbles that no longer stung. A variety of fingers quested for
tight muscles, working down his spine and across his shoulders. One set reached under him and stroked his
stomach, easing the cramps that had started there. It felt so good, so safe; all he could do was cry.
“That’s better, that’s good, John.” Aeryn spoke to him even though she knew he could not hear. “We’re going
to turn you over now, do not get upset. It’s just us and it won’t hurt when we do this.” She nodded to the
others, and they slowly flipped him over. He stayed relaxed and they started down his body again. She worked
her fingers in at the base of his skull, supporting his head in her hands as she worked the muscles he used to
like having massaged so much. John opened his eyes. The blind gaze staring in Aeryn’s direction without
recognition and then, for a brief instant, he seemed to smile.
* * * * *
Aeryn stood beside Meylan while he examined John, impatiently waiting for him to guide her into another
Meeting. No one had been able to locate anything substantial since D’Argo had banished the Others two days
earlier and it was beginning to worry her. It had been the promise she had extracted from John that had lured
him into exploring the portions of his memory that he had deliberately hidden, which in turn had led to the panic
attack. Any lost progress was her responsibility.
Meylan straightened up, let go of Crichton, and shook his head. “I was not able to get any further into his mind
than usual. Still, I am not reassured by what I sensed within. I would like you to wait before trying another
“It’s been two full planetary days,” she said. “If he’s upset, shouldn’t we try to help him?”
“I do not sense anxiety,” Meylan said pensively. “You know he has not allowed any of us into his mind unless
we are accompanying one of you. That is making this very difficult. I am not receiving any sense of specific
emotions. What is occurring is something far more … I believe the best word might be ‘random’. I fear for your
well-being if you venture into another Meeting at this time.”
Aeryn thought about his caution for almost fifty microts, her eyes fixed on Crichton’s expressionless features
the entire time. She was worried about him, more worried than she had been since the first day they had
brought him here. D’Argo had banished the demons, so why was he unreachable, she kept asking herself.
Why wouldn’t John answer any of them?
“We have to know what’s going on in there,” she said. “I’m asking you to take me into his mind. John would
never hurt me.” She placed her hands firmly on John’s skull and waited to see what Meylan would do.
“He would never hurt you deliberately, Aeryn Sun. You must consider that not all of the injuries to John
Crichton’s mind are psychic in nature. There has been a great deal of damage to the physical. Whatever is
happening may be something that he is powerless to control.” The priest stroked the dark stubbled jaw, his
thumb working at a taut muscle near John’s right ear.
“He won’t hurt me,” she repeated, waiting for Meylan’s final decision. Warm fingers, damp from the not-quite-
water of the pool, grasped her hands, and the familiar mental shove carried her forward.
… five, six, pick up Tom Mix? Not really right, not really bright. Sun is bright, where is my Sun? Change the
plugs, adjust the timing, timing is everything. Wish he had the time to … all the time in the world really, which
world? Sykar, sky car, sly car, side bar, here come da’ Judge. Lawsy me, what dat be? I tawt I saw a puddy
cat. -- JOHN! Help me I can’t exist in this! -- Who dat? Boogats. Who’s on first, what’s on second. Nyuck,
yuck, yuck. Freshman dorm assignments, wound up in the smallest room on campus, no chance of sneaking
Alex in there without his roommate knowing about it. Alexandra the great … Aeryn was great, greatest thing
that ever happened to him. -- Fragmenting personality, force of the destruction of his mind pulling her apart,
complete dissolution ripping every construct into its most basic pieces and scattering them into the melee. --
Where had he put Aeryn? She was hidden safely from the Others, but where where where? Werewolves
shouldn’t stay out after eleven, seven eleven, kill for a cherry Slurpee right now. If he couldn’t then he wouldn’t,
come again? -- John! -- Who’s there? -- JOHN!! You have got to help me. -- AERYN? Hang on to it, grab
on to it, it’s an anchor, cling like Saran Wrap, tooth and nail, she says she needs my help. Aeryn?
Help me. I can’t stay, but I can’t leave if you don’t help me. -- Aeryn? Error, do not bend, fold … concentrate
on Aeryn, Aeryn, Aeryn. What do I do? -- Show me where it is, show me where I go to leave, I can’t find it in
the middle of all this. -- Order, organize, lobotomize … NO! Order, ranks and files, clean your room, John
Crich … NO! Order, order, order … THERE! THERE, THERE, THERE, THERE. Goodbye, Aeryn. I love you.
She was shoved violently in one particular direction.
* * * * *
She was lying on the heated tiles, wrapped in several towels with her head propped in Chiana’s lap. Every cell
in her body seemed to throbbing at a different tempo, with the exception of her head, which was merely
exploding with the power of an entire star.
“Let me sit up,” she croaked. “I need something to drink.”
“Are you in pain, Aeryn Sun?”
Daaren was kneeling beside her. Aeryn stared at him, confused by his presence. He hadn’t been in the pool
room several microts earlier.
“I was summoned to treat you, Aeryn Sun,” he explained, and handed her a flask of water.
She reached for the container and missed, tried and missed a second time. “My head is killing me,” she
admitted. Daaren wrapped her fingers around the flask, hovering until it was clear that she had a grip on it.
She sipped slowly, flinching when his fingers touched her temples. The pain slid away, leaving her feeling ill
and sweating all over.
“What happened, Aeryn? What went wrong?” Chiana was supporting her, the pale hands shaking against her
shoulders even as they held her upright.
“He’s gone,” she told them in a strained whisper.
“What do you mean gone?” Chiana demanded. “He’s going to be fine. He knows who we are and he’s been
getting better. Gone how?”
“I mean he’s --” Fighting back the tears required that she stop for a microt, swallowing with difficulty before
trying again. “John is gone. There’s nothing organized inside there. That’s --” She lost the battle. Tears
began flooding down her cheeks.
“Do something!” Chiana said, aiming her anxiety directly at Meylan. “Fix what went wrong. Find what changed
and repair it.”
“John Crichton has stopped fighting,” the sixteenth level Pa’u confessed. “He has given in to the disorder
resulting from the torture. There is nothing we can do to bring him back.”
“He’s gone,” Aeryn repeated on a sob. She buried her head in her folded arms and gave in to the grief.
* * * * *
The pool chamber was silent except for the quiet lap of water against the edge and the occasional slurp and
suck of the circulation system. Rygel, Jool and D’Argo had been summoned and had been told of Aeryn’s
devastating discovery, leaving all five shipmates brooding in a depressed silence while their hosts quietly
discussed their remaining options.
Aeryn watched the small huddle of delvians near the doorway without interest, merely noting the lack of energy
and the slump of their shoulders. Their discussion was pointless. She had been the one to experience the
complete lack of direction in John’s mind, the total chaos that had fallen over him. He had been so lucid, so
aware of her the last time she’d had a Meeting with him. His emotional control had been non-existent, but every
other portion of his psyche had felt exactly like the John Crichton she had come to love. No one had been able
to adequately explain how he had regressed from that frightened but directed mentality to this gleeful
destruction of coherent thought.
“We might as well change our clothes,” she said. “We’ll be able to leave soon.” The tears were there again,
unwanted and unbidden.
D’Argo started to ask a question. “What about --?” He knelt by the side of the pool, watching John coast
toward the wall.
“What?” Chiana asked him.
“Who’s going to --” D’Argo gestured toward John’s body, unable to finish his query. “I won’t leave him here like
Aeryn had already asked the same question of the delvians. She passed on the answer she had received.
“Meylan said they would take care of it. It will be painless.”
She took a deep breath, searching for and finding the rigid self-control that had kept her going after the other
Crichton had died. She knew that she would not be able to maintain the façade for as long this time. She was
too close to the brink, too close to complete dissolution to be able to hang on for much longer than a few arns
after they finished the necessary task.
“He’s in there,” Chiana objected. “We all felt him. We talked to him. He knows who I am. We can’t just … kill
“He doesn’t know anything at all anymore, Chiana.” Aeryn joined D’Argo by the side of the pool, kneeling down
to get one last look at the unique human who had changed their lives. “John Crichton died two days ago. He’s
gone and he is not coming back.” Beside her, D’Argo was silently crying, tears running steadily down into his
“No,” Chiana wailed. “Look at him. He’s right there!”
“I am looking at him!” Aeryn snapped angrily at her. “Don’t you think I want him to recover? You don’t know
what it was like in there. It was like … like being insane. There wasn’t a coherent thought left. I couldn’t even
find my way out of his mind. The medtech was right. We should have let them put a pulse blast through his
head and gotten on with our lives. We could have saved ourselves all this time and anguish.”
“Aeryn,” D’Argo admonished.
She shook her head, trying to take back the harsh words. “No, that’s not true. It was worth the effort. We
tried. John tried, but he was too badly damaged. He would have come back to us if he could. The injuries
were too severe.”
She pushed herself to her feet, the normally effortless action a strenuous process. She was exhausted from
her brief mental battle to break loose from John’s shattered reality. Each and every movement had to fight
through stiffening muscles and her deepening grief. She stared at John’s unblemished body floating near the
bottom of the pool. He even seemed relaxed and happy now, all sign of the inner destruction hidden from
D’Argo leaned down to dip his fingers into the water, then touched them to his lips and bid his friend farewell.
“Goodbye, John Crichton. I will miss you for the rest of my life.” He rose to his feet and gathered Chiana under
his arm. “We’ll go get changed.” He put his hand on Aeryn’s shoulder for a microt, stared into her eyes with
sympathy, then turned and headed for the door, leaving her alone to say her goodbyes.
“Why did you stop fighting, John?” she asked the submerged figure. Grief turned to rage in an instant, the
repressed emotions finding a single outlet. “You promised!” she yelled at the senseless man floating beneath
the water. “You promised me you would fight and you would come back! Frell you, John Crichton! You
promised.” Tears flowed, making it impossible to yell again. “You promised you would fight.”
And then D’Argo was beside her, holding her, hugging with all of his might as the anger cooled, leaving only
pain and misery. “He promised me he would come back, D’Argo. He promised. John promised me he would
make the effort to come back, D’Argo. He promised.”
“I know, Aeryn,” D’Argo whispered, his voice rasping with his own tightly controlled emotions. “He would have
kept his promise if it were possible. You know that.”
“I don’t understand something,” Chiana interjected into the ensuing silence. Dark tears continued to streak
down the gray skin.
“What?” Aeryn asked without lifting her face from D’Argo’s chest.
“You said you couldn’t survive in his mind, that it was too confusing. How did you find your way out?”
Aeryn froze. Even her breathing stopped for the length of time it took to replay that chaotic journey in her mind,
separating out her thoughts from the whirlwind of images she had picked up from John. Then she lifted her
head and looked toward the group of delvians with something resembling hope in her eyes.
Drive your car, go to Iscandar, it’s last call at the bar … they never had last call at Sykar. White nights, nights
in white satin, Aeryn in satin and lace. Where did Aeryn go? There’s that anchor again. Woohooo, sail on by.
Goobye. She said, nope, he said goodbye. Goodbye to Aeryn. Aeryn. He’d lobbed her right on out of here,
yep, centerfielder’s arm. What a long bomb, hail mary pass the gravy and grits you teeth, grin and bear it.
Barely heard it. Herd the stock, wind the clock … Aeryn had to leave. Aeryn couldn’t stay. Hang on, hang on,
hang on. There’s that anchor again, snag that bad boy with a boat hook, Captain Hook, tick tock … NO!!
Aeryn. Anchor. Take up the stillness, silliness … be still. The water is warm, the river is wide I cannot get
o’er … the water is warm, it’s all around. Breathe. She’s gone. She had to leave. She’s gone. Forever?
Because of him? He said goodbye, she left, hang on to Aeryn, grasp it hard, order everything else around that
one fact, that one need. Take a deep breath and hang on to it.
Aeryn left because …
The water in the pool slapped hard against the tiled sides, vigorous wavelets slopping over the edge as John
suddenly spun underwater, turning over and grabbing at something. He opened his eyes for the first time since
D’Argo’s rescue two nights earlier, suddenly appearing anxious. It was more motion than they had seen at any
time since he had been rescued, and the first appearance of anything resembling emotion. He grabbed at the
water, both fists clutching spastically, fingers clamping into uncoordinated balls, and gulped at the water as
though he were panting.
She jumped as the mental yell blossomed inside her head. “Did you hear that?” she asked, pulling out of
D’Argo’s embrace. She looked toward the doorway. Meylan was walking very slowly around the edge of the
pool, moving in their direction looking both astonished and perplexed. “Did you hear that?” she asked him in a
“He should not be capable of projecting like that,” Meylan said with a moderate degree of disbelief in his
“Take me back in.” Aeryn was already stripping off her quilted clothing. D’Argo took her tunic and pants from
her in a daze, not understanding any of the disjointed conversation bouncing between the two suddenly
energized people. “I know,” Aeryn cut Meylan off before he could warn her. “I know it’s dangerous, but I’m not
giving up if there’s still a chance.”
“Aeryn, what is going on?” D’Argo finally insisted.
She continued to ignore him, plunging into the pool to pull John off the bottom while she waited for Meylan to
join her. She had him floating on his back with her hands wrapped around his head by the time the priest
pulled off his vestments and joined her. The transition was instantaneous.
Aeryn. He slid into her with a rush. AerynAerynAeryn. I thought, I thought, I thought I’d driven you away
Random images tumbled about them, swooping and diving at them. John batted them away, refusing to let
them touch him again. She could feel the constant, tiring battle against their urge to chaos.
I’m sorry, I’m sorry. Are you all right? Did I hurt you?
You did not hurt me. I’m all right. Can you maintain this? Do we need to help you?
No, I can do it on my own now. I just forgot for a little bit. I won’t forget again.
You won’t forget what? There was no answer. She asked it again. You won’t forget what, John?
They floated together for what felt like several arns, doing very little beyond being with each other, sometimes
sharing images and the small fragments of memories that John would show her and ask her about.
I’m not sure. It looks like you when you were very young.
Yes, you. John Crichton.
That’s called a tavlek. You call them tavloids.
I do? Why do I call them that?
No one knows. We have never been able to figure that out about you.
Aeryn, what’s THIS? He let a wave of something flow outward so she could experience what he was feeling.
That’s an easy one, she told him. She caught it, added her own version to the emotion and sent it rolling back,
steadying him when the intensity threatened to overwhelm him.
That’s nice, he sighed, letting it rebound toward her. What’s that called?
You already know. It brought you back to me. It’s called love.
* * * * *
Aeryn drifted across the larger pool, letting the gravity reducing effect of the water ease the cramped muscles
in her neck and shoulders. She was beginning to understand Crichton’s love of hot water, although she would
have preferred the temperature somewhat lower if it had been for herself. Standing half-submerged during the
Meetings never triggered the onset of heat delirium, but the pools were too warm to allow her more than an
occasional brief immersion to relax. If it had been cooler, she would have welcomed a long relaxing swim.
Jool and Chiana were arguing again, their voices bouncing off the walls of the chamber in a non-stop
percussive rattle. They had been sitting immersed up to their necks when she first floated by, and it sounded
as though they were still resting in the shallow area of the pool, scrapping about something of little or no
A dark flash streaked across the bottom of the pool. A moment later Rygel popped to the surface. The
hynerian had been surprisingly willing to participate in the Meetings with John … provided he was allowed to
wallow in the water to his heart’s content afterward. He had spent as much time in the water as out of it over
the last twelve planetary days.
Aeryn looked back across the pool to the benches where they had all left their clothes. D’Argo was sleeping on
the warm tiles beside the pool. He was taking advantage of a break in the nearly constant attempts to get John
to interact with them outside his quiet dreaming place. They were all showing signs of fatigue. The repeated
Meetings were taking more out of them than some of their most violent physical encounters. No one had made
the slightest complaint, though, and it had become commonplace for one or two of them to be watching from the
side when someone attempted to reach John in his secluded world. Even Jool had learned to subdue her
arrogance long enough to find John, initiating one of the longest Meetings so far as she shared her accurate
recall, showing John many of the things he had left behind when he retreated into his mind.
She turned over on her stomach and slid smoothly underwater, taking her time as she swam to the far side of
the larger pool. She surfaced at the wall that separated the larger pool from the smaller enclosure that held
Crichton whenever he was resting. Both pools held the same not-quite-water mix, but John was kept in a
separate area where the fluid was constantly filtered and treated to keep him healthy. Aeryn leaned her
forearms on the wall, pulled her upper body out of the heat, and watched him. The only motion was his hair
lifting and wafting in the occasional current. Some days there was a lot of activity in there, rolls and stretches,
random grabs or blows at nothing, followed by day-long stretches of death-like stillness.
She reached over the partition and held her hand just above the surface of the water, feeling the barely seen
vapor striking her palm, driven by the fizzing streams of oxygen. Below her John stretched slightly, batted in
watery slow motion against something invisible near his head, then turned and looked up at the surface. The
misaimed eyes continued to shock her, as did the look he sometimes wore that seemed to indicate some
awareness of his surroundings. But there wasn’t any sight, any more than there was awareness.
There had not been a relapse since the devastating event three days earlier. Unfortunately there had not
been much progress either. John’s memories remained trapped somewhere in the damaged portions of his
brain, his reasoning remained a hit-or-miss capability at best, and his unwillingness to leave his private
universe had not eased even a micro-dench. He greeted each of them happily when they arrived, reveled in
their company during the Meeting, and steadfastly refused to get anywhere near the exit when they invited him
to leave with them.
“He’s going to recover, Aeryn.”
Chiana floated next to her. Aeryn had not heard her approach. She had been too deeply immersed in her
thoughts about the past few solar days and what lay ahead.
“You have to believe it,” Chiana said, breaking into her reverie for the second time.
Chiana’s assurances could not have come at a worse moment. Aeryn had spent the preceding day and most
of this one deliberately avoiding the portion of her mind that held the possibility of failure. It was too difficult to
maintain a positive outlook as the days went by with little change in John’s condition. She could not afford to
spend even a few microts considering what would happen if they could not draw John away from his quiet
dreaming place. Not this soon after the near-calamity three nights earlier. Not ever.
“How much of their resources do you think the delvians are putting into maintaining this environment for him?”
she asked instead.
“Very little, Aeryn Sun.” They turned together, startled by Tahleen’s quiet answer. “And any drain on our
capacity would be too small to repay our gratitude.”
Chiana’s curiosity got the better of her, and she asked the question that no one on board Moya had answered
to her satisfaction. “What do you owe them for?”
“Crichton and Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan risked themselves -- risked their identity and their sanity to ensure that our
madness spread no further. It was Zhaan’s wisdom that turned us back from a path that would have led to our
destruction.” Tahleen sank gracefully into a seated position with her legs tucked under her. “Our community is
stronger, more powerful than we ever could have hoped, and we have begun building a new home here instead
of the temporary sanctuary we once envisioned.” She dipped her hand into the water, watched the drops trail
off her fingers. “We would give a great deal more than we are currently providing in order to restore John
Crichton to health.”
“Can you do it? Can you heal him completely?” Aeryn felt a resurgence of hope.
“We can heal his body and guide his mind along the route to recovery,” Tahleen said, “but it will be up to him to
decide to make the journey back to rejoin you.” She paused for a microt, considering her words. “We have
seen only small portions of his ordeal. It will not be an easy process, and there is --” She paused again. “You
should maintain the most positive mental outlook possible if you are to be of the greatest help to him.”
“Finish what you were going to say,” Chiana demanded. “Our strong suit is deception. Don’t try to beat us at
our own game.”
Aeryn agreed with the request. “Finish it. Tell us the whole truth.”
Tahleen stared at her hands and remained silent for almost fifteen microts. “There is the possibility that he will
not choose to make the effort to return the rest of the way to you,” she said at last. “The level of trauma is
much greater than anything we have ever experienced, and the physical damage is extensive. If John Crichton
rejoins this realm his body can be restored, but he must make the effort first. His recovery three days ago
would be a very positive sign, except that he has become even more resistant to the idea of leaving since then.”
Below them the eyes closed and the subject of the conversation coasted in the current until he bumped lightly
against a wall, then began a slow traverse back across the short distance to the other side. Aeryn slid over the
barrier and ducked under water to grab him. She floated him toward the surface until his shoulders were
against her stomach, allowing him to remain curled up. She stroked his cheek a few times then began gently
rubbing her thumbs against the tendons at the back of his neck.
“Come back, John. You can make it.” She whispered it to him, pitching her voice so low that she was sure the
two women sitting less than two motras away would not be able to hear her over the sibilant hiss of oxygen
fizzing from the surface of the pool. “It’s just a little farther, you can make it.”
Gentle stroking against the back of his neck, a sensation from a different life, belonging to someone else.
Deep breath of contentment, the tide’s ebb and flow moving deeper to somehow enter his soul. His head ached
as always, but he took another deep breath through his nose and the warmth eased the pain. The rhythm was
entering his mind, lulling him into a place of peace and security. He tried stretching a little, but it brought the
ever-present ache back without managing to actually move any of his muscles. His body answered its own
agenda: moving when he least expected it and remaining dormant when he commanded it.
He had found a new memory, one consisting of blue skies, warm air, and a yellow light in the sky. He wanted to
ask Aeryn about it and the place that John was supposed to fill in this vision. There weren’t any hulking
creatures in the remembered place, but something else was missing as well.
The rubbing moved to his chest, stroking him up and down, gradually migrating to the base of his throat where
it somehow convinced the body around him to relax and straighten out.
This was enough. Small touches and warmth. No need to go anywhere else. This quiet dreaming place and
Aeryn was all he needed to sustain him.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *