Child Of The Night - Chapter 7

“We believe it is time.  There is nothing more to be accomplished by letting him remain locked away.  You have
all tried repeatedly to lure him the rest of the way across the boundary, and he is resisting as fiercely as the
first day.  It must be done with caring, but he will have to be forced to come back.  He is not going to do it on his
own.”  Meylan faced the assembled group and waited patiently for their reaction.  

John had been immersed for just over sixteen planetary days and they had all made dozens of Meetings with
him.  He had come close to emerging with Aeryn one evening two days earlier, but he had turned back
forcefully before the transition and had not been willing to attempt it since.  No one had been able to get him to
reveal any portion of what had happened during the time he was imprisoned, other than when they caught an
echo of his screams.  Only D’Argo had gotten the one glimpse of the ‘Others’, and they were convinced from
his quick impression that it was the scarrans.  

“Do we need to take him through what did this to him?  Or can we get him out without doing that?”  Aeryn
addressed her question to the entire group of delvians gathered in the pool room.  It was going to take five of
the priests to get the entire group into John’s mind.  She smiled at the image of the five of them jammed into
tight quarters along with John.  That alone would drive her insane.  

“You will have to determine that as you try to draw him out.  We will be riding along and will offer our advice if
we believe you are handling a situation incorrectly.  You have all shown a deep insight into his needs,
however.  We believe you are well equipped to handle this journey.  Our capacity to coax him out is no greater
than yours, and it would be the work of strangers, which might worsen any damage.”

“What if we are unable to convince John to come with us?”  D’Argo asked in a low grumble.

“We will continue trying as long as you wish.  If you are not successful on this attempt, however, then I suspect
that his withdrawal will be permanent.  Be compassionate, but you must not give up until you are absolutely
certain that you cannot get him to emerge.”  

“How the frell are we supposed to figure that out?” said Chiana.  “Is there going to be a big sign posted saying
‘Give The Frell Up’?”  She was stalking back and forth behind the others, giving action to the tension that was
manifest in all of them.  

Lorana answered the question, eyeing the quintet gravely.  “If you convince him to move away from his refuge
and he manages, despite your efforts, to retreat all the way back to where you started, that would indicate a
decision on his part that he intends to stay.  If he stops but does not retreat then you should continue trying.”  
She looked around the nervous group.  “You have all displayed a keen understanding of John Crichton.  I do
not believe you will misjudge him this time.  Your compassion will guide you correctly.”

“What will happen to Crichton if we cannot get him to come out with us?”  Rygel seemed grumpy as he asked
the question.  His tone of voice was belied by his next statement.  “If he won’t come out, we can’t just leave him
like this.  He’s in there, we can’t abandon him.”  He looked quickly at Aeryn before turning back toward the
priests.  “It wouldn’t be like he was insane.  He’s acting as rationally as Crichton ever gets.”    

“That may be a decision you never have to make.”  Tahleen’s voice was like a cold breeze, barely touching
them but leaving a chill behind as they contemplated the cost of not succeeding.  “Do not think about failure.  
Remain positive and supportive, and do not yield easily if he resists.”  

There was no break between Tahleen’s last word and the sound of Meylan’s voice.  “Remember that you are
not attempting to persuade him.  The last several days have made it clear that you will have to force him to
abandon his refuge.”

“Crichton is going to resist,” Rygel said.

“Yes,” Meylan said.  “Undoubtedly.”

The room remained quiet for several microts while everyone considered that pronouncement.  

“You do not mean resist,” D’Argo said once Meylan’s words had sunk in.  “You mean John is actually going to
fight us.”

“I believe so.  He is happy where he is.  There is always the possibility that he will accompany you without a
struggle, but --”

“But he is too frelling stubborn for that to come true,” Chiana said.  

“I believe so,” Meylan said again, this time with a mournful smile and a nod in the young nebari’s direction.

“And we should force him to come with us anyway,” Aeryn said, confirming that their strategy had just shifted.  

“With compassion,” Lorana said.  “He knows you care for him.  That is what separates what you are about to do
to him from cruelty.”  

“Does anyone want to skip this Meeting?” Aeryn asked the others.  There was no hesitation in her own mind,
but in light of the revelation about what lay ahead, she did not want any of the others to feel they were being
forced into taking part.  She looked at each of her crewmates in turn, finding the firm determination she had
anticipated from D’Argo and Chiana, and an equal degree of commitment from Jool and Rygel.  

“We may have to take John back through what the scarrans did to him,” she warned one more time.  “He has
said several times that there is something he has to do before he can leave.  That is what is stopping him.”   

“We’re in on this,” Chiana said firmly, speaking for the entire group.  

                                                                             * * * * *

Crichton had been moved back to the larger pool where the delvians had begun forcing more oxygen into the
already saturated water.  Meylan had explained that they expected John’s impending ordeal to upset him, which
meant that he would be using more oxygen than normal even if his struggle was entirely mental.  

Aeryn slid into the pool to take her place at his head.  John had been left completely undisturbed overnight,
allowing him to rest as deeply as possible, and he looked healthier than he had at any time since his rescue.  
Tahleen was supporting his head, gently stroking his jaw as she waited patiently for everyone to prepare for the
upcoming battle.  John opened his eyes just as Aeryn came to a stop alongside the delvian priest.  His gaze
continued to wander in random directions, looking at nothing in particular.  Nothing had changed in that
respect.    

“Can he see?  Will he be able to see?” Aeryn asked while they waited for the others to get ready.  

“All of our tests show that the nerves are intact and there has been no other permanent damage.  He should be
able to see when he is ready to look.”  Tahleen let him float freely, shifting to a position near his shoulder as
the rest of the group arrived.  All of them looked apprehensive but were moving with deliberate assurance.  

Meylan joined Aeryn at John’s head and she slid into his mind for what she prayed would be the last time.  

Aeryn!  I’m glad you’re back.  

It was the first time that he was actually waiting for her.  Is anything wrong?  

No. I just missed you.  I was lonely.  

You do not have to be lonely, John.  You could come with me today.  

There was no answering thrust from him, only an impression of reluctance.  John, please come with me, come
with me now.  She tried to move closer, not to join with him, but to entangle her desires more deeply into his
senses.  He put up a flimsy mental barrier, wary because of her request but not shutting her out with any
significant force.   

You made a promise to me that you would be ready some day.  

Yes, yes, yes, someday but not today, not yet, not yet.  

He reverted nervously into the anxious rounds of repetition that he had given up several days earlier, sending
the same images again and again.  Aeryn broke into his stream.  Yes.  Today.  Now.  Come with me.  She
whispered it, spoke it, sent the commands floating to him through the warm embrace of the water.  He faltered,
recovered, became more anxious.  

Not yet, Aeryn, please not yet.  I like it here. This is a good place to be.  I want to stay here longer.  

How much longer?  

I don’t know.  Longer.  A bit longer.  

John, you promised.  You promised me that you would be ready, and I think today is the day that you have to
be ready.  

I know I promised, he wailed, trapped in his vow.  But not yet, not yet, not yet.  Please … not that … I don’t want
to, not yet.
   

Why not?  

NoNoNoNoNo.   

Then his name washed over him in a chorus, the symbol for his name swelling on a four part wave of caring.  
They were all there, invading his quiet dreaming place.  His fear and suspicion grew.  He tried to back away.  
Rygel and Chiana teamed up to block him, forming a determined restriction to any movement deeper into the
tangled labyrinth of his own mind.  They wound themselves around him and pulled him forward, seeking a
balance between supporting him and providing an implacable force to carry him into the area of his mind he
refused to visit.  Jool and D’Argo joined in, providing a coordinated aura of emotional assurance, doing their
best to bolster Crichton’s confidence while forcing him forward.  Together, as a single entity, they began to
carry John away from his quiet dreaming place.  

Aeryn tried to guide the entire group straight back the way they had all arrived, along the well-known route
toward the pool where the delvian priests were waiting.  Their way was blocked.  More than blocked.  The
pathway simply did not exist any more.  She sent out an inquiry, wafting it toward the place where warm water
and gentle hands waited for them.  The delvians were there.  They heard, understood, and could respond, but
they could not find the route either.    

See?  SEE?  That’s not the way out!  I can’t go that way; they won’t let me.  

It was a wail of despair.  

Who won’t let you?  

THEY won’t.  The Others.  The ones over there.  

Then we will all go together, John.  D’Argo’s reassuring tone took the edge off the mounting panic.  We will go
with you, and we will force the others to let you come with us.  

And then they were all telling him the same thing all together.  A single intertwined voice told him that they
would not abandon him.  They would stay with him.  They would share whatever horrors he was trying to avoid.  
He could trust them.  He had to come with them now.  

No!  I don’t want you to go there but I can’t go there without you … you can’t come with me but you must come
with me … you can’t, I can’t, not without you, not with you, not with me, not without you, not …  He wound down
and stood in their midst, confused and unable to go in any direction at all.  

You are John Crichton, Aeryn told him.  You must come with me now.  

No.  

The confused mind refused to move, rediscovering resolve, and Aeryn experienced the shared mass of five
times her own despair.  She tried one more time, wielding the one tool that no one else possessed, deliberately
ignoring the fact that the others could hear and feel the complex symbols she was about to show him.  Getting
John to abandon his dreaming place was more important than the brief surrender of her privacy.  

John, I need you back.  You have to come with me because I need you.  

He continued to back away, putting every bit of his limited mental energy into fighting the restriction created by
Chiana and Rygel, and the despair was like nothing she had ever felt.  It was worse than when the other one
had died.  

JOHN!!  I cannot go on if you do not come with me.  I can’t lose you, not again.  

He stopped, irresolute, frightened out of the capacity to form coherent images.  She could feel the confusion
building in his mind, battering any remaining intellect into mindless chaos.  A small cluster of fragments orbiting
a single idea -- more a suggestion of a concept rather than a true symbol -- managed to make its way out of the
destruction.    

Aeryn.  Aeryn needs John.  

Yes, Aeryn needs you.  Please come with me.  

Aeryn needs me to come.  

She felt him looking forward and back -- the closest John could come to weighing his different options -- and
sent the thought one more time, backed up by every micro-dench of dependency she could muster.  

I need you, John.  

He sobbed and struggled again Rygel’s and Chiana’s embrace, trying to avoid the deluge of unformed
memories that were breaking free from where he had hidden them.  The images tumbled loose, reminding
everyone of the agony he had survived, forcing John to finally contemplate what had happened to him.  

What he feared most and had worked hardest to prevent was happening.  He was starting to remember.  

No.  Aeryn, please.

John, I need you.  Do it for me.  

Aeryn needs …

John … I LOVE you, and I need you.

Aeryn loves John.  John loves Aeryn.

I love you.  You love me.  

The others stood frozen, avoiding any thought that might distract John from what she was showing him, waiting,
hoping that she could make him understand.

John loves Aeryn.  Aeryn loves John.  He repeated the images several times, turning them over and over,
examining each one as carefully as his limited intellect would allow.

You love me.  I love you, Aeryn sent back, then gave him a new image to consider.  We want to be together.

Together …

Together.  Not like this John.  Not here.  We want to be together for real.  You want to be together with me.  I
want to be together with you.  I cannot survive if we are not together.  I love you too much.

Together with Aeryn.  John wants to be together with Aeryn.

Yes.

I MUST DO IT FOR AERYN …  

He leapt into the void separating him from where they stood around his body, and they were all carried with him
as he fell into the darkness.  

                                                                             * * * * *

They had given up on the standard technique of mental dislocation once they had determined his identity.  He
had not revealed anything about who he was so he assumed they must have had something about him stashed
in their datastores.  One of their leaders, larger and brawnier than the others, had come into the room and he
had been released from the projector.  The hallucinations had been as bad as before, but knowing what was
happening had allowed him to fight it, clinging tenaciously to the knowledge that every bizarre set of events was
nothing more than an induced illusion.  

It had actually been a lot of fun through the first stages.  He was starving now, but he could clearly remember
the taste of the pizza and beer.  They had used Aeryn again, and he had taken enormous liberties with that
little delusion and gotten something far better than a meal out of it.  He lay on the floor where he had collapsed
and smiled at the implanted memory.  He considered suggesting they start over again, deciding microts later
that humor was not in the make up of a scarran and that provoking them was a bad idea.  

There was humor in his mind though, laughing at how he had used their torture to enjoy himself, amusement
and bemusement at his forays into a forced fantasy world.  There was admiration, and a smirk, and someone
humorously disgusted, and outright laughter, and someone who was indulgently pleased that he had found
solace in her imagined company.  They made him feel safe, nudged him to continue, clung to him on all sides
as the past was relived.
 

One of them grabbed him by the back of the vest and he was slung into the hallway, crashing into the wall to
slide down to the floor with another heavy impact.  

‘Bruise number four thousand and eighty two,’ he thought fuzzily.  

Their progress back to the cell was a series of such battering tosses.  Grab, sling, smash, thud.  Sounded a bit
like a commercial for some piece of kitchen equipment … or maybe alka-seltzer.  Plop, plop, smash, fizz.  The
second and longest throw down the hallway left him dazed and limp, which might have explained why he made it
through the last bodily heave without getting hurt.  

‘Bad aim,’ was his last thought as his scarran jailer missed the doorway entirely and flung him at short range
into the wall beside the entrance.  

Crichton woke in a tangled heap in the corner of the cell, feeling sore and battered.  He spent a few microts
assessing his own condition, considering himself lucky since he was basically intact and his thinking was clear
despite a mild headache.  He extricated himself from the knot he had formed, and got unsteadily to his feet.  He
could see yellowish sunlight streaming through a small window set high in the wall, and tottered to the opposite
side of the cell to get an angle to look out.  It was morning; soft early sunlight illuminated a clear sky.  He did
some mental calculations and decided that two days might have passed since his capture.  His stomach chose
that moment to let out an extended growl, confirming his estimate.  

Crichton walked to the door, which looked like it was made of hydrosteel, and tried to haul himself up to look out
of the small grated window.  It was set at the height of a scarran, and he got no more than halfway up before
dropping back to the floor, too sore and tired to lift his own bodyweight.  He was about to try the bang-on-the-
door-and-sing-the-blues routine, but chose discretion over impudence.  Scarrans were the wrong captors to
piss off.  

He did not have to wait long for attention.  Less than half an arn had passed when he heard the heavy
clomping of several scarrans approaching his cell.  He moved to the back wall and leaned against it, trying to
look nonchalant.  He was scared enough that his mouth was dry and his skin was tightening along the back of
his neck as he considered what they might try next.  He was not inclined to underestimate the savagery of this
species.

The door crashed open, and four scarrans crowded into the cell.  Within microts, he began to sweat.  

“Nice sauna here, guys.  Can I get a clean towel?”  It popped out of his mouth even as he tried to tell himself he
should not say it, and got the expected reaction.  Not a sling … more like a slap from a bucket loader.  Grab,
SLAP, smash, thud.  Makes for an interesting change, the thought rattled through his rattling head.  He pushed
himself up onto his hands and knees, choosing to stay closer to the hard floor until his senses cleared.  

“Bring him.”  The largest one was doing the talking again.  One guard grabbed the back of his vest while
another crushed both of his ankles in one huge hand and they carried him between them to a room he had not
visited yet.  He was placed upright before the leader, ringed by five or six others.  The heat was getting
oppressive.  Sweat trickled down his chest under his shirt.  The waist of his leather pants slid greasily against
his dripping skin as he shifted from one foot to the other, fighting the fear that welled out of his stomach in
nausea inducing floods.  Wiping his forehead on the sleeve of his already soaked shirt only succeeded in
smearing around the additional sweat.  

“Who are you?” one of them snarled.  “Tell us your name.”  

They had been asking the same question since the first moment they had captured him.  Crichton figured they
knew who he was by now.  This was simply their way of testing his resistance to their unrefined hospitality.  
Giving them his name meant he would have to make up his mind about answering every subsequent demand.  
He decided to draw the line right here.  Once the door to answering their questions was open, he would find it
harder and harder to resist.  It was easier to stick with straight-out refusal.  

“Dirty Harry,” he answered, trying to sound confident.  “Or maybe that’s dirty and hairy.  Go ahead, make my
day, Wally Gator.”  He braced himself for another slap.  Both his shirt and his vest disappeared instead.  Long
claws ripped them to shreds with only a whisper of noise as they were sliced off his body.  “Didn’t like the
color?  I thought basic black went with anything.”  

One scaled hand reached toward him.  He managed one step back before the heat washed over him.  The
extra distance did not help.  A tiny part of his psyche screamed that this was the scarran mind-probing
capability, relying on the victim’s body breaking down under the extreme temperatures.  He shut his eyes,
closed his mind to the pain, and rode it out, ignoring the repeated questions.  He was released to fall to his
knees, gasping for air.  A stream of sweat ran down his face and splashed off his chin.  He was really feeling
very tired.  

Energy flowed into him from an external source, willingly lent by others -- those who surrounded him in another
time and place.  They buoyed his spirit, eased his fatigue, urged him to go on despite the daunting distance
that remained to be traveled.  

“Very well, then.  You leave us no choice.”  The grating, growling voice did not sound particularly disappointed
about the turn of events.  

He was flipped onto his back and a sharp claw slit the laces on his boots.  His pants were quickly shredded and
pulled away.  Within microts, he was standing naked before them, sweat streaming down his entire body.  
Several more scarrans had joined the crowd, pushing the temperature up even higher.  There were almost a
dozen in the room now, and it seemed to be overflowing with scales and sharp teeth.

Several circled around him, peering at his anatomy.  It was beginning to feel like a “Nightmare in the Locker
Room” movie and the sick feeling in his stomach was approaching the level of true nausea.  One of them went
so far as to run a finger between his legs, examining him in more detail and John forced himself to stand still,
struggling to look impassive.  

The inspection ended and he was shoved further into the room.  They lifted him to lie face down on a metal
table, pinning his arms and legs as several of them began attaching droves of electrodes to his body.  A
majority seemed to be concentrated along his spine, and the nausea increased.  

When the scaled fingers began working their way over his skull he started to shake, fighting to control it so they
would not know how afraid he was now.  The application stopped and he was flipped over onto his back.  He
tried struggling as they moved him.  Their strength made a farce of his efforts.  They began strapping him to
the table and more tangles of wires were separated and attached.  Crichton tried to divorce his screaming
anxiety from what was being done to him, redirecting his attention by searching for a place in his mind where he
could hide from whatever was coming.

Intrusion on his memories.  Comfort, love, warmth.  He would survive, he would be all right.  Warmth, floating
sensation.  Aeryn was there.  They would protect him.  Warrior D’Argo was by his side.  Jool’s intellect said he
could live through this, Chiana showed him how a survivor survives, and the resolute dignity of a deposed royal
give him the strength to continue.  They told him more.  He didn’t hurt, he didn’t have to be worried, he would
survive this.

Aeryn, I don’t want to do this.  Let me go back.  

Move forward.  Move on.  He could come to them now.  

He tried.  He heard the voices and tried to go with them, but the Others had him completely bound to the table
now and the sticky attachments had crossed his groin and were crawling up his chest.  He struggled wildly,
doing his utmost to break free so he could follow his friends.  He didn’t want to stay here.  It was too awful.  

Take me with you, please, oh God please.  

The answer came back that he could come with them whenever he was ready, but he had to be the one who
came to them.  They would stay with him and help him until he was able, but he had to be the one to travel the
distance.  They could not do it for him.  

He pulled desperately at the hands that held him down, tried to believe that he could just leave and go with his
friends, but he was still on the table and nothing he did made a difference.

AERYN?

I am here.  I will not leave you.

The straps were wide and cut into him too frequently.  Ankles, knees, thighs, hips, chest, his arms in three
places, and then the thickly padded one across his throat, pulling up on his chin.  He could not budge a single
dench.  They finished securing the last wires onto his cheekbones, and stepped away, admiring their work.  
There was jostling as they fought for a vantage point to watch, avidly waiting for the next moment.  Their
enthusiastic pleasure frightened him more than anything else that had happened so far.  Logic and bravado
dissolved in the face of their delight.  These were scarrans; nothing they enjoyed could be good.  Crichton did
not want to admit to himself what was about to happen, but he exhaled as deeply as he could, emptying his
lungs of the fuel that drove screams.

Stronger voices were chanting to him, filling him with peace and tranquility.  There were harmonies winding
around it and capturing his attention.  Wordless, it calmed him, steadied him for what was inevitable.  It gave
him the strength to see that no one had left him.  They were worried and they wanted to leave, but not if it
meant abandoning him.  They would not leave without him.  He touched them for a moment, drawing strength
from their presence, then tried to pull away so they wouldn’t have to do what he had done.  He tried to buffer
their experience, intending to cut them off and protect them even if it meant being alone.  They wouldn’t let him
carry through with his plan.  They entwined themselves into him and they waited together for the horrors to
begin.  

“Kelvo One.”  Starburst in his chest, but not a bad one, just a baby leviathan ripping out through his sternum.  
Mucus ran down his cheek from where the remaining vestiges of air were driven out while he was trying to
breathe in through his mouth at the same time.  In and out at the same time didn’t work, but his throat needed
air to make the noises.  He panted for a moment and tried to exhale again.  He would not give them the noises
unless he was forced into it.  He had nothing left but his stubbornness; he would not give them what they
wanted until he had no other choice but to yield to the increasing levels of agony.

“Kelvo Two.”  Body on fire.  Raging explosion in his head.  Cramps in his forearms and legs from straining
against the straps, but only a gagging noise because he started with no air.  

“Kelvo Three.”  First cry into the night, coughing and gagging because he tried the simultaneous inhale-exhale
thing again.  Strain against the chest strap and hear his bad shoulder pop out and back in.  Minor sting
compared to everything else.  

He remained warm and supported, but the hands holding on to him were shaking.  He had to draw back, go
away from this place.  They would let him if he had to, but they encouraged him to continue.  The voices called
for him to go forward.  Life lay before him, nothing lay behind.  They would understand retreat but they would
prefer he continued.  They were ready, they could stand it, he could stand it, it wouldn’t hurt him this time.  

He paused, considering their assurances.  It was the wrong thing to do, because while he pondered his
choices, there was …

“Kelvo Four.”  

Throat burning, rictus of muscles pressing against the padding there.  Shoulder popped out completely that
time, arm twitching from the injury but no sensation really, anything the body thinks it is feeling is lost in the
encompassing fury they’ve stuffed into his nerves.  A scarran leans on the joint and the noise reverberates
through the bones in his ear as it goes in.  No other way to tell it ever happened, just a quiet whisper against
the symphony of pain they’ve given him.  Every instrument is playing at full volume and they are not even
leaning on the switch now.  

Arching against the next hit, impossible position to achieve when there was no room beneath the restraints just
microts ago but it seems there is now.  Lungs aching for air.  Suck in overheated oxygen and give vent to the
agony again and again.  An interrogatory nearby.  It registers but isn’t truly heard; don’t know what they want
him to tell them.  He would tell if he knew what they wanted.  Let it loose, let it flow out with the full contents of
his lungs.  Release the energy being stuffed into every cell in his body in a long chorus of dissonant sounds.  

Turn back, go back, I’ll go back now, I want to go back.  

They wouldn’t let him, they pulled at him, called to him, pleaded as he pleaded, begging him to continue forward.

I don’t want to, I want to go back.  

It was too late …

They hit him again with Kelvo Four and the noise was no longer a release.  It was forced out, ripped out without
volition, brutally extracted from his lungs and throat.  Released from the force that was tearing him apart,
flopping back, hearing some crippled animal in the corner crying out its suffering, waves of cold water slapping
his body, sluicing away the sweat.  Trying to service burning lungs and getting a throat full of water instead,
coughing and spitting up water and mucus together.  

Was that six or seven?

“Kelvo Five.”  Not possible to feel every cell in his body separately.  Not possible.  Another bucket of water over
his head, choking and fighting for air.  Finally find the right way to breathe, take a huge breath and another
deluge hits.  It’s deliberate.  Trying to cough an ocean out of his throat while strapped prone so he can’t
breathe.  They hit him again with the power of a nova stuffed into every cell in his body and he’s choking and
spitting up water, trying to scream but sucking fluid into his lungs instead.  Hit him one more time, and it all
comes out on a wave of sound that he never would have guessed could have been produced by one pair of
lungs.  

We’re here, you’re not alone, his friends sang to him.  

I want to leave.  Let me leave.  

Come with us, come forward, follow us.  

Don’t you see?  They won’t let me go yet.  Struggling and pleading but then there’s …

“Kelvo Six.”  Moving deeper inside now, invading his bone marrow, his intestines, running down the insides of
his lungs.  Hit him again and again and again.  Scream, scream and let it all run out.  No need to hang on to it,
there’ll be more.  Don’t savor it, there’s plenty more where that came from.  Scream.  It’s a good thing.  

Turning back, pulling loose and heading back where he had been, but they were blocking him, urging him
forward, surrounding him with their calm determination.  They force him back toward where the nightmares
await.

I don’t want to … don’t make me … please.

Come with us, come forward, don’t stop here.  

One strong voice leading the singing encouragement, the single voice that held his life out to him, offered him
everything that he needed to continue.  

Aeryn needs me …

“Kelvo Seven.”  

Loud crack and maybe he’s broken his arm, but his hand is flailing loose.  Turns out he has managed to snap
through a restraint and everything comes to a stop.  Heat closes in as several work to replace the missing
piece.  Can’t have him thrashing around, he might cause himself some pain.  Hearing his own laughter, which is
sounding a bit hysterical.  They’re attaching the new part now, getting ready to start again.  Wishing Harvey
was still with him to kill him.  Harvey could put an end to it.  There’s an argument starting having to do with a
bet.  Start over or continue.  The heat wave billows over him, and even tightly ratcheted down he’s sliding on
the slick surface of the table.  

Come forward with us, you’ve done enough now, you don’t have to finish.

Crying and trying, but he’s bound and can’t move.  They won’t allow him to go with his friends.  Tugging at the
straps, don’t leave me, don’t leave me here, I don’t want to stay.  

We will NOT leave you, John.  We all leave or we all stay.

“Kelvo Four.”  Compromise for those with wagers.  Not a good compromise for him.  

“Kelvo Five … Six … Seven.”  No escape by breaking loose this time.  

“Kelvo Eight … Nine … Ten.”  They’re paying off bets.  He’s still alive.  A new round of laughter and more
betting.  Why is he still conscious?  Direct nerve induction, the words ring in his memory.  Direct and immediate
stimulation of the synaptic processes.  Stick a frog, stick a Crichton.  Straps are being released, but not all of
them.  Wrists and ankles remain, pulled tighter than ever.  

They’re going to … they’re going to … He couldn’t say it, couldn’t show it.  

COME WITH US NOW, JOHN!!  They were all saying the same thing.  There was a chorus chanting to him to
leave this now and go with them.  

He pulled at the straps, pulled frantically at his ankles and wrists, desperate because he knew what was about
to happen, and they wouldn’t come free.  

AERYN!!  Make it stop!!!

“Kelvo Ten.”  No fair, they did that one already.  One nano-microt to consider.  There is a choice to make,
scream first or turn inside out.  Bullseye, stick the Crichton.  Scream, scream, scream.  No relief this time, they
hit him again and again.  Released from the pain because he’s vomiting but they’re ready for that.  Hit that
button again and once more.  Laughter and more bets paid off as they strap him down tightly.  They had been
measuring how high off the table he would get.  

Refastening the rest of the straps, yanking them tighter than before because the Others know how bad it is
about to become.  Back to the business at hand.  

How high does the dial go?  

“Kelvo Eleven …”  

They’re not asking questions anymore.  This is just for fun.  

Oh God no.    

NO!!  No! No! No! No!  

The hands were grasping him more tightly now, telling him it was over, it was all right, he was all right, he would
be well again.  The straps were gone even though he knew there was more to follow, his limbs were free of the
sweat slick table and their arms were around him everywhere instead, telling him it was over and he could come
home now.  He let them take him with them, but it wasn’t over.  He knew better.  He knew there was more
waiting for him.

The fury was singing in his body again for the first time in days, every neuron jacked up to an impossible level.  
There were no straps to stop him, so he could arch over backward, every muscle pulling him into a folded rictus
in the wrong direction, seeking to snap his own spine to stop the pain.  But the star had been stuffed into his
skull as well, and only a bullet between the eyes would ever stop it.  There was more coming, much more, but
he couldn’t begin to remember it.  It was inconceivable, more than one brain could ever remember and yet he
remembered.

The arms holding him were fading and there was only the shattering of his mind, the running before that which
could not be handled, the diaspora of his identity.  He was breaking into his component parts, floating out onto
the ocean of sensations upon which no sailor would ever choose to embark.  

Confusion, dissolution, dissipation; neurosis, psychosis; mania, shattered cranium.

He was gone.  All that he ever had been was gone, and there was only the next fusion of body and the energy
that had destroyed him.

He was jerked out of his reminiscence of insanity by a voice in his mind.

It’s a phantom, John.  It doesn’t exist.  

The hands were soothing him again, and he could feel them now, real and substantial, invading his world.  

It’s over and the pain is gone.  Say it with me.  

It’s over and the pain is gone.  He said it and it was.

It’s over and you can open your eyes and come out now.  Feel us, we’re here and we are waiting for you.  Open
your eyes, and follow me out into the water.  

The chorus of voices commanded and coaxed, teased and persuaded, urged and nudged, asked and
demanded.  And there were more voices joining in, singing a single complex tune that lacked any notes.  

Follow us, open your eyes, you’re safe, follow us, look at us, come with us, see us, be with us.  Come home.  

Aeryn’s voice ordering him.  

Follow me, John.  Come with me.  

He did.  

Open your eyes.  

He did.  

John Crichton looked up as he was told to, and saw the distorted images of his friends hovering above the
surface of the water.  He drew in another liquid breath, not fighting it although it seemed new, and looked left
and right, trying to make sense of his surroundings.  Blue skin alternated with the variety of figures around him,
each pair of hands supporting him and holding him securely:  D’Argo’s tattooed stomach, Chiana’s lean gray
ribs and taut belly, Jool’s familiar midriff and Rygel floating as if he had been born there.  

He ached all over, every nerve in his body singing in the aftermath of remembered agony; but the pain was
measurable and he could handle it.  His head was empty of the reassurances; the silence that existed in that
space was more agonizing than the physical sensations.  He tried to recall who had been there, who had been
talking to him, who had ordered him to obey.  He remembered.  He remembered who it was just as he noticed
the steady massaging at the base of his skull.  He let his head fall back and looked up at Aeryn.  His view of her
was distorted by ripples from tears falling into the water.  

‘Don’t cry, Aeryn Sun.  I’m here, don’t cry.’  He couldn’t use the contents of his lungs to make the noises he
knew she would understand.  Somehow she heard him anyway.  

‘I’ll cry if I want to, John Crichton.  You shut up and relax.’  The single tune reentered the void inside his head, a
clear unblemished note that filled the hollow spaces to overflowing.  His head ached unmercifully, but that one
tone made it possible to ignore the light and heat of the discomfort.

‘Did I do it?’  He was worried, she had been insistent and he had refused several times to do what he was told.  
There might have been an argument.

‘Do what?’  

They had not let go; the hands were still there to protect him.  His mind existed in solitude now, but they were all
maintaining contact, letting him know he was not alone.  Why was Aeryn the only one who would talk to him
though?  

‘Did I keep my promise?  Did I do what I was supposed to?’  His body was still singing a high pitched aria of
discomfort, muscles twitching a discordant percussion to go along with it.  Focusing on Aeryn and his friends
allowed him to shunt the rising sensation of sickness to a place where it could be ignored.  

Her answer did not come right away.  Aeryn rubbed his skull harder, moving her fingers to work behind his
ears.  ‘Yes, you did.  You did everything you promised and more.’  She rubbed the tired muscles along his jaw,
the ones that had bunched into tight knots and now ached as though they would never stop.  ‘You need to relax
now.  Try to relax.’    

Her fingers returned to the back of his neck, and worked into the tendons at the base of his skull.  When she hit
a particular spot she seemed to be seeking, he did not really have a choice about relaxing.  He sighed,
enjoying the warm rush in his chest.  He had forgotten to miss how good it felt when she rubbed that spot.  The
other hands were leaving him slowly, until he was floating, eyes half closed, in Aeryn’s solitary grasp.  

‘Don’t leave?’ he tried calling to them.  ‘Don’t go yet?’  

After a delay of four microts they returned, but he still could not hear them.  There were the careful touches,
completely unlike those he had been feeling for so long, but more reassuring.  They held and caressed him
until Aeryn told him they had to leave so everyone could get some rest.  He rocked in the currents from their
departure.  

‘You too?  You need some rest too, don’t you?’ he asked her.  ‘You sound tired.’  

‘I will leave to get some rest so long as you promise me that you will get some sleep, too.  But you have to be
ready to talk to me here, in this pool, in the morning.  Agreed?’  

He nodded.  

‘Don’t just nod.  Tell me that you will meet me right here in the morning.”

‘I promise.’  

“Not in the quiet dreaming place,” Aeryn said, rubbing both sides of his jaw with her thumbs.  “I want you here,
in the water.  No going back.  Promise me.’

‘I promise,’ he agreed again, and then considered a portion of what she had just said.  Thinking was hard work,
requiring energy that he did not seem to have.  
‘Aeryn?  How can I hear you when I’m underwater?’

‘Special equipment.  We’re with a group of delvians, and they are taking good care of all of us.  Now go to
sleep, John Crichton.  I will be here, waiting for you when you wake up.’

                                                                             * * * * *

Aeryn waited until she felt his mind slide into an exhausted rhythm, easy waves of sleep carrying him up and
down through the natural, healthy cycle.  She broke away then, both mentally and physically, staggering back
into D’Argo’s strong, waiting hands.  He guided her to the edge of the pool and, without asking, lifted her to sit
on the edge.  Someone dropped a warm towel around her shoulders and she sat for long moments feeling tired
and depressed.  She had expected that this moment would leave her feeling elated, but every trembling quiver
of her exhausted body took her one step closer to weeping instead.  

She roused herself to look at who was around her.  Chiana and D’Argo were sitting shoulder to shoulder to her
left.  Jool was on the far side of D’Argo, also making physical contact.  Aeryn looked for Rygel and found the
aquatic hynerian floating quietly by her right foot.  Everyone’s attention was focused on the figure stretched out
near the bottom of the pool.  

For the first time since they had brought him to the New Moon of Delvia, John had not curled into a ball.  He was
floating stretched out almost straight, arms tucked along his ribs with his hands curled against his chest.  Some
remaining bit of inertia or a stray current had started him rolling, slowly revolving from face up to face down and
around again.  His hair stood out straight from his scalp all over, a puffy sort of look except that it was waving
slightly as he drifted.  

“Yotz,” said Rygel with very little expression in his voice.  

“Frell me,” Chiana added in an equally flat tone.  

“That was …”  Jool paused and everyone turned to look at her, waiting for her pronouncement.  She shook her
head, for once at a loss for words.

“Why isn’t he dead?” Chiana asked.  “He should be dead.”  No one mistook what she was trying to say.  They
all wondered how he had survived.    

“He’s back,” Aeryn said, forcing the words past the lump in her throat.  “He did it.”  She found a smile forming
somewhere inside her, easing outward until it tugged at the corners of her mouth.  “We did it.  We all did it.  He
came back.”  

“Long way to go,” D’Argo cautioned her, but his features were brightening as well.  

“Crichton can be a complete pain when he isn’t feeling well,” Chiana agreed.  “He’ll be a miserable son of a
frellnik until he’s fully recovered.”  She laughed and nudged D’Argo with her shoulder.  And suddenly they were
all laughing, banging gently against each other as they sat shoulder to shoulder on the warm tiles, watching the
sleeping Crichton coast slowly from one side of the pool to the other.  

Aeryn thought about the long way to go that D’Argo had mentioned.  John’s injuries were severe; his body was
the prison now, instead of his mind.  The delvians had already warned them that he had suffered extensive
damage to the motor neurons that controlled most voluntarily movement, as well as those responsible for some
of his autonomic reactions.  He would require endless arns of their healing sessions to restore those portions of
his nervous system.  But she alone had felt John’s mind in the last few microts after the others had broken their
contact.  She knew the firm feel to his thoughts, and the returning steadiness of his emotions.  She had also felt
the huge holes in his memory, the blank spots where information might have been lost forever.  The intrinsic
nature of him was there, however, and she was certain that the John Crichton she knew was back.  


                                                                          * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chapter 6                                                                                                                                                                                  Chapter 8
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