Child Of The Night - Chapter 8

Wake missing Aeryn.  Longing for her before he leaves sleep behind.  He was floating, but where?  There was
a light mental touch and he opened his eyes to discover that he was surrounded by blue.  He remembered that
there were people called delvians.  

I am John Crichton, an astronaut.  Aeryn and the others are here.  

Where is here?  What was there before Aeryn?  There should be more.  There was someone called Mom.  
Who was Mom, where was Mom, what was Mom?  Where did she belong in the vast empty spaces within his
mind?  

There was plenty of time to consider these things.  He was … underwater.  That was supposed to be strange.  
He tried to stretch, hurting intensely.  His body ignored him and went on feeling tight and cramped.  He went
back to considering the underwater situation.  A deep breath worked, although he didn’t know why it did … or
why he thought it shouldn’t, for that matter.  He tried a small sniff.  It didn’t feel particularly different from when
he wasn’t underwater, except a bit thicker.  The flood in his chest was soothing.  He floated and waited,
considering the small group of things that made sense.  This wasn’t quite as peaceful as the quiet dreaming
place, but it felt safe and somehow he knew that Aeryn would come to see him here.    

The wafting reverie was broken by someone grasping him firmly about the sides of his head.  He started to
open his eyes to investigate this event, but there was a sensation like someone knocking at a door in his mind
and he veered away from the physical embrace to examine this latest experience.  

Good morning, John.  Are you awake?  

No. I’m sleeping.  

Is that supposed to be funny?  

Guess not.  

How do you feel?  

Like crap, but I’m alive.  I found out something interesting that you forgot to tell me yesterday, Aeryn.  

What’s that?  

I appear to have drowned.  

Can a wraith laugh?  Can a mental ghost be filled with joy at a returning peculiar sense of humor and laugh with
relief even if the joke was pretty stupid?  Yes, it could.  It was not the rebirth of happiness, but gestation had
begun, the sprouting of something within him that promised to blossom into the cheerful way he went through
life.  He shared his view of the laughing figure bending over him, rubbing his chest to reassure him that he was
not drowned, he was alive, and that this very weird spot to sleep was not going to kill him, and for the first time
-- for a discernable moment -- there wasn’t any fear.  

Aeryn?  

She felt the overwhelming mass of anxiety in his single gentle touch.   

Who is John?  I can’t remember.  You said I would … but I don’t.  

She thought about this problem for several microts then, instead of answering his question, asked him
something else.  Who is Aeryn Sun?  

She faltered as he showed her everything he knew of her.  

“Aeryn, are you all right?”  

The deep voice drew her out of her dazed shock and she turned to look at D’Argo.  The luxan had been sitting
patiently at the side of the pool.  He was standing now, tense muscles shouting out his concern.  Aeryn looked
between him and Meylan several times, struggling with the familiar disorientation that they all encountered for a
few microts every time they exited John’s psyche.  

“What is the matter, Aeryn?  Is John all right?”  

“Everything.  He remembers everything about me,” she said, her voice cracking under the strain of containing
her emotions.  “Everything.  How is that possible?”  She crossed her arms and shivered, distraught at the
discovery that John had retained those memories when his own identity had been obliterated.    

“It was his refuge, the place where he went to escape what was being done to him.  He preserved it to the last,
Aeryn Sun.”  Meylan touched her lightly on the arm.  “It was not sacrifice, it was survival.”  He looked down at
the submerged figure.  “He needs you; he is concerned about your departure.  Do you have the energy to
return?”

Aeryn nodded and allowed him to guide her back into John’s mind.  The entry was far more difficult this
morning, pushing in against his own rapidly expanding consciousness instead of the easy entry into a place
where he barely existed.  The symbols were far more complex as well, sometimes exceeding her ability to
interpret what he was trying to convey.  She felt Meylan increase the pressure, and she was suddenly with
John.  

The fear was back; the rare moment of tranquility lost.  If she had been alone and embodied, she would have
punched something to alleviate her anger over what her unplanned departure had done to him.  She bound up
her frustration in hopes that he would not notice it and consoled him instead.  

I’m here.  It’s all right.  I only wandered off for a microt.  You know I’m here this morning, you can see me
standing alongside you.    

Why … I didn’t mean … I don’t … I thought … I don’t know why you left.  

Were you scared?  

No. Yes.  No.  I don’t know.  I’m confused.  

And scared?  

I’m scared, Aeryn.  And I hurt, and I’m tired of hurting.  I don’t want to hurt anymore, and I’m scared.  Who is
John?
 

He is the person who is standing next to Aeryn every time you think of Aeryn.  

She could feel him considering that, comparing it against his memories of her.  They want to help you with that,
John.  Will you let them?  You have to let them into your mind in order for them to help.  

Will you stay with me?  

I can’t … not for this.  

I don’t know, I don’t know.  I’m confused, Aeryn.  I don’t understand.

I would like you to let them do this, John.  Please?  For me?  

An odd, complicated symbol that involved reluctance and loathing floated back to her first, followed by a quieter
image.  

All right.  

Aeryn withdrew gradually, taking the time to let him know she would be nearby if he needed her.  Even after she
left his mind, she continued to rub lightly behind his ears until his neck relaxed and his head dropped back.  He
looked up and gave her a small smile, looking every bit as apprehensive as his mind had felt.  

“Take his hand, Aeryn Sun,” Meylan said.  “We will let you know if you need to leave him completely.”  

She did as he suggested, holding John’s hand tightly as Meylan and one other priest moved to his head and
began a quiet chant.  John’s eyes closed and a quiver ran through his body, a long shuddering complaint that
seemed to originate somewhere other than in his physical existence.  Aeryn squeezed his hand more tightly,
rubbing her thumb across his knuckles, and suddenly she knew that they were in his mind.  She felt his muscles
go rigid for an instant and then he relaxed completely except for a strange sort of hum coming from his body,
reverberating through his hand.  She let go and eased toward the edge of the pool.  

The ones she had told him about arrived, pressing against his thoughts, asking him to let them enter his
consciousness.  Aeryn had asked him to let this happen and he had agreed.  He tried to let them in, but he
didn’t know how to remove the barriers.  

Just do it! he called to them.  Force your way in.  

There was an agonizing thrust against his mind and then they were there, inside with him.  But he was still
fighting them despite his best intentions not to resist.  They showed him something about lifting the confusion
and showing him who John was and where he belonged, and he took one more deep breath, thought of Aeryn,
and finally managed to lower the barriers he had erected.  

It started as a tickle, a tiny prickling inside his mind.  A small flood of images spooled out before him too fast to
be understood.  Psychic fingers delved further into his consciousness, coaxing the tangle into more sense,
pulling the knots of damage free and loosing the flow of mental energy.  The pain was increasing though, from
a mild discomfort to a pounding explosion that seemed to double with every passing microt.  

It hurts! he called to them.  It hurts!

He was told that it would be just a little longer, and then they would make it go away, but they opened another
floodgate of images and the agony rolled over him, spreading out in all directions.  

Aeryn jumped to her feet as Crichton wrenched himself completely out of the grasp of the delvians.  D’Argo and
the others were beside her instantly as the explosion of spray in the pool obscured his convulsing body.  The
four delvians scrambled about trying to grab him, but he was throwing himself about too violently, defeating
their attempts to restrain him.  D’Argo jumped into the pool without bothering to remove his clothes, and threw
himself over the spastically thrashing human, carrying him deeper into the water.  Aeryn followed a microt later
followed closely by Jool and Chiana.  

D’Argo came up for air.  He was clutching John tightly around the head and shoulders, fighting to keep him
submerged.  Aeryn forced herself between Meylan and one of the other healers and captured Crichton’s arms,
hanging on tight as the straining muscles gained leverage, thus increasing their ability to apply force.  

“I thought this wasn’t supposed to hurt him!” she said to Meylan.  Some of the fierce bucking died down as the
others managed to snare his legs.  

“We underestimated his response.”  Meylan released an ankle into the grasp of one of the other priests and
moved around to stand by John’s head.  “I am truly sorry.  We were about to address his discomfort when he
broke free.”  

He grasped Crichton’s head and closed his eyes.  The frantic surges from the patient continued.  Meylan took a
deep breath and ducked under water in order to place his forehead against John’s.  Aeryn watched, fighting to
hold both arms, and knew that he was having trouble getting into John’s mind.  He came up for air and shook
his head.      

“Make this stop now,” D’Argo said.  “John is going to damage himself if this continues much longer.”

Aeryn glanced first to where Chiana and Jool were doing what they could to restrain the wild movements, and
then checked to see how D’Argo was coping.  “Can you hang on to him alone?” she asked him, and shifted to
one side to make room.  D’Argo looped one arm around John’s chest and snared his arms with the other.  

Aeryn waded to his head just as Meylan came up for air a second time.  “Take me in, he’ll trust me.”  

“He is in a great deal of distress,” he began.  

“Take me in!”  She placed her hands over Meylan’s, not bothering to rearrange their grasp.  “D’Argo is right.  If
we don’t stop this, he’ll injure himself.”  

Aeryn closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on firmness of thought, making herself into an arrow that could
pierce any defenses John might have put up.  Meylan thrust hard, pushing her before him, and she was
suddenly inside, but without the backup of the delvian.  She was tossed back out just as abruptly as she
arrived.  

“Hezmana, he’s frantic.  Try again.  Hold on tight this time.  I won’t be able to maintain contact if you aren’t there
to help me.”  She looked at Meylan and he nodded.  

MAKE IT STOP!  

It was ripping him apart, shredding each and every nerve bundle and neuron in his brain into fragments, which
then grew into larger chunks of pain, only to fracture and grow again, the blinding white light of his agony
growing exponentially.  Worse than the pain was the fact that he was being held down, the clue that told him
that something much worse was going to follow.  He poured every ounce of his anguish into the attempt to
break free.  

John!  Stop what you’re doing and listen to me.  

Aeryn?  It came out on a scream that he couldn’t prevent.  Please, please … oh God it hurts.  They’re going to
make it hurt worse.  Don’t let them, don’t let them, don’t let --
 

No, they’re not.  Stop fighting us.  

They’re holding me down.  That’s how it always starts. You promised, you promised you wouldn’t let them do this
to me again.  I can’t survive this another time, Aeryn!
 

John!  This is not the Others.  Let us fix this.  Let them inside.

I’ll try, but--

Don’t try … DO IT!  

He focused on Aeryn, thought of his trust, and did his best to cooperate.  

Aeryn felt herself being gathered, bound into a projectile, and then she was tossed like a lance into John’s
small mental breach, Meylan hanging on for the ride.  She staggered back out immediately, out of the inner
recesses that hid the last of the pain-filled secrets, leaving Meylan behind.  

Hang on, John, it’ll be over in a microt, hang on.  Don’t fight Meylan.  He’s trying to help.  

Oh Goddddddd.  

The pain was suddenly gone.  

Meylan appeared in the mental space again, looking haggard and tired.  Aeryn pulled out of the Meeting and
looked down at John’s face between her hands.  He was gulping in water, that and his heaving chest the only
moving parts of his body now that the crisis was over.  She rubbed both sides of his jaw, and he opened his
eyes and looked at her, the emotional hurt as obvious as his physical distress.  

‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  I didn’t know that was going to happen.  Neither did they.’  She could only hope that he
would receive and understand the silently transmitted thought.  He closed his eyes and shook his head in
watery slow motion.  She could not tell whether he was trying to deny what had just happened in response to
her message, or if it was a purposeless motion to relieve the muscular strain.  

‘Aeryn?’  

The thought was as clear as if he had spoken it aloud.  John stopped and she rubbed his neck, feeling the
overwrought muscles spasming beneath her fingers.  He still did not continue and she nudged him, a wordless
encouragement to continue.  

‘I don’t ever want to do that again.  Can we make a promise?  Please say I don’t have to do that again.  
Please?’
 

He was wheedling, as though he knew she could not assure him and was hoping for a miracle anyway.   

‘We’ll see, John.  I’ll do my best.’  

She looked up at Meylan, who had straightened up and was staggering a little himself.  It was the first time she
had seen the sixteenth level Pa’u this badly affected by something that occurred on a mental level, and it spoke
legions about the level of pain and distress John had been experiencing.  John’s plea that it never be allowed to
happen again took on more meaning.  

“Will it be necessary for him to go through anything like that again?” she asked

“It should not have hurt that much.  We will have to delve more deeply to discover the source, and that may
result in a recurrence, but we will do our best to avoid it.”  

Meylan shiftted his grasp to include John’s temples, and closed his eyes.  “There is … an injury … a trauma,
deeper inside; one that I could not fully examine.  We will evaluate it in a few more days.  For now, he needs
some rest, and then we will see about getting him out of the water.”

“But he just woke up!”  

She could not accept that Meylan and the delvians thought they should wait any longer to take John out of the
pool.  She wanted him sitting beside her, dry and looking like a human being again, no matter how badly
injured, not floating like some sort of refugee from a water world.  She wanted John Crichton back, and as long
as he was submerged, there was a barrier between them that suggested he would never be the same ever
again.  

Meylan looked around at the nods of agreement coming from the entire crew, and took the time to explain,
speaking to Aeryn but talking to the entire group.  “John Crichton possesses very little in the way of energy
reserves and stamina, Aeryn Sun.  His current surroundings require almost no expenditure of effort, which
creates a façade of health.  As soon as he is out of the pool and subject to the whims of gravity, you will see
that he is very weak and very badly injured.  We had planned to remove him from the pool this morning, but the
events of the last few microts will have drained him.  He needs to rest before we ask him to make the physical
effort necessary to return the rest of the way to rejoin you.”

It was the longest she had ever heard Meylan talk.  The priest normally confined his explanations to one or two
short sentences heavily laden with meaning.  Going to the trouble of laying out all of the details could only
mean that she and the others needed to heed his advice.  She checked quickly on the others, received four
gestures indicating that they were in agreement, and then nodded to Meylan.  

“Let him rest.  We can wait a few more arns,” she said, acquiescing to the delvian’s superior knowledge and
wisdom.  

Everyone gradually released Crichton, watching to make sure the frenzy was truly over.  He stretched slightly,
something similar to a whole body quiver and then started to curl up again, sinking to hover just above the
bottom of the pool.  Meylan ducked under to check on him, stroking his head lightly with both hands, then
surfaced to face the assembly of concerned faces.  “He is sleeping,” he announced.  “We will have someone
stay with him for the next few arns to make sure he remains calm and comfortable.  After that, we will wake him
and get him out of the pool.”

                                                                              * * * * *

He dreamed.  He dreamed of a place where he didn’t hurt, and no one came to hurt him.  A place where he was
safe and Aeryn was with him, and no one threatened them or tried to kill them.  A place where he wasn’t afraid,
and he didn’t get injured, and they could live happily together.  But he didn’t know where it was, and didn’t
recognize any of the blank misty walls around him.  And Aeryn wasn’t with him.  He curled up, lonely and
exhausted, and cried himself to sleep.

                                                                              * * * * *

John, can you hear me?  

Aeryn?  

Yes, I’m right here.  Open your eyes and look at me.  How are you feeling now?  

I … I’m okay.  I’m glad you’re here.  

His relief swept over her, once again stunning her with its intensity.  Why are you glad?  

The other place was calling to me – the quiet dreaming place.  It wanted me to come back.  I kept saying no.  
I promised to say no, but --
 

But it was getting harder to resist.  

Yes.  What should I do, Aeryn?  

How about you come out of here, out of the water, and come back to me.  Are you ready to come out?  

I don’t know how to.  Is it possible?  How do I go from here to there?    

Some delvians are going to help you and I’ll be nearby in case you need mouth to mouth.  

He knew that her final remark had significance, but the event wouldn’t come to mind.  He chased it and it
eluded him, always moving faster than his pursuit.  He abandoned the quest so he could answer her.  All right.
 

Aeryn left.  She was replaced by something blue.  He waited, wondering.  

A suggestion in his head asked him to take three breaths to get ready, and then to exhale as hard as he could,
to keep exhaling until it hurt.  John did his best to obey, struggling with muscles that refused to answer most of
his commands.  The three breaths operated on their own without difficulty.  It was the second part that refused
to come off as planned.  He tried anyway, fighting to control his own body.  As he struggled to exhale, several
hands descended on his diaphragm and helped push until his stomach and lungs began to ache.  He was
wordlessly exhorted to keep going, encouraged to evacuate every square dench of his lungs.  That was when a
set of arms slid around him from behind and forced even more water out of his lungs; firm hands continued to
push on his diaphragm.  The watery scenery around him began to go gray and then black, and he wondered if
they intended to kill him.  His ribs were compressed even further, more liquid eased from his throat, and the
pool and everyone in it seemed to move very far away.  

Just as he was convinced that he was dying, and ached to say goodbye to Aeryn before it happened, John was
pulled vigorously out of the water in a burst of spray and his chest was released.  

He whooped, sucked air into starved lungs, coughed, and sucked in another breath, feeling an uncomfortable
gurgle down deep.  The world came back in a bound:  loud, uncomfortable, too bright, and above all else, cold.  
Water trickled into the back of his throat, setting off a bout of coughing, followed by a racking string of
sneezes.  He got two good breaths in before more water streamed out of his sinuses and he began coughing
again, spraying moisture back into the water.  Each and every movement was agonizing, and he could do
nothing to get it to stop.  The draining and coughing went on for almost thirty microts.  Then he sneezed three
more times, snapping a fine spray of water out of his hair with each of the nasal based convulsions, and it was
over.  

He lay in someone’s grasp, his lower body floating freely while the person behind him held his head and
shoulders clear of the water.  A familiar delvian face smiled down at him, prompting an attempt at greeting one
of the Nice People.  His mouth and throat refused to make the appropriate noises.  All that came out was a
garbled squawk.  

“John?”  

Aeryn appeared at his side like a hallucination.  He could hardly believe she was right there before his eyes.  It
felt like it had been … a length of time he could not remember the term for … since he had last seen her.  He
tried to reach for her hand, but his arm did not work any better than his voice.  Coming out of the water was
beginning to have some distinct drawbacks.  No matter how furiously he glared at his offending hand and tried
to will it to reach toward Aeryn, it continued to float uselessly in the water.  

Aeryn picked up his hand as though drawn to it by his thoughts and held his palm against her cheek.  

He couldn’t feel her.

There were prickles, and a burning sensation, and pain, but there wasn’t the soft, warm surface beneath his
fingers that he was sure he was supposed to be feeling at that moment.  In spite of having her right there
beside him, he suddenly missed Aeryn more intensely than before.  “Gnn,” came out of his throat when he tried
to say her name.  He wanted to tell her there was something terribly wrong with his body.  

“Nnn?”  The second attempt at her name was no better than the first.  

“Give it time,” she told him.  “Remember that you were drowned.”

An attempt to answer her turned into an extended bout of coughing.  When it was over, he was so tired he
could barely breathe and he was desperately worried because no part of his body seemed to work right.  To
make matters worse, he couldn’t tell anyone about the problem.    

“John.”  Her voice drew his attention away from the growing panic and back to the intensely caring gray-blue
eyes.  “Listen carefully.  You’re injured.  We know that.  We know that you can’t move, and we know that certain
things don’t feel the way they’re supposed to.  Everyone here is going to take care of you for a while, and they
are going to help you get better.  Do you understand?”  

Aeryn’s voice sounded different from the one he had been listening to for the last several days, something to
be pondered later.  The important thing was that the sounds Aeryn was making slowly sorted themselves out
into some concepts he could understand, and he was not as scared any longer.  Instead of trying to speak,
which had already proven futile, he tried a nod for an answer.  His body cooperated long enough to provide a
small one.  

“They’re going to take you out of the pool now,” Aeryn said.  “Relax.”  

He was towed to the side of the pool where he was lifted into a mass of towels wielded by a small crowd of the
Nice People.  Once they had him thoroughly mummified, they started to carry him away, only to be brought to
an abrupt halt by a quiet request from somewhere behind him.  They set him down straddling a bench.  Two of
the strangers remained, sitting behind him and holding him upright.  

He was tired and cold, and sitting up was uncomfortable.  Nothing made any sense, there was no clue to explain
what they were waiting for, and he fervently wished they would take him some place warm and comfortable
where he could go back to sleep.  Before he could sort out some sounds that might transmit his wishes, one of
the people behind him grasped him gently by the chin and raised his head so he could see what was going on.  

Aeryn was walking toward him, her head tilted to one side with an expression that looked like she did not know
whether to laugh or cry.  Presented with the most beautiful sight he could remember ever seeing, all his
concerns about fatigue and pain and cold dropped away in an instant.  The only remaining regret was that he
could not tell her how much he enjoyed looking at her.  He wanted to ask her to remove the towel she had
wrapped around her waist so he could see what she had on underneath.  It gapped open with every other step,
showing the long, unencumbered line of her leg and the hint of light blue trunk-like shorts.  There was a thin
boundary of midriff showing above the rolled edge of the towel, and then a tight-fitting sleeveless top that left
her arms bare.

He tried to tell her anyway, knowing ahead of time that it was unlikely she would understand.  It came out
sounding like “Noo-ga-fuh.”  

Aeryn stopped half a motra away and smiled at him.  “Beautiful,” she interpreted.  

“Eh,” he agreed.  

She crossed the remaining distance between them and sat down in front of him.  Her hand passed through his
water-soaked hair several times as she simply stared into his eyes.  

“Welcome back,” she greeted him at last, and pulled him into a hug.  

A second set of hands guided his head forward so it rested on Aeryn’s shoulder, there was one more small
adjustment to make sure he would not fall over, and then he was alone with her.  Most of the sensations did not
feel right.  There were bits and pieces of memories about what it was supposed to feel like to have Aeryn’s
arms around him, and none of it was supposed to hurt.  He could barely make out the firm pressure of her body
against his, and the touch of her hand moving up and down his back left a stream of pain in its wake.  It was
supposed to feel much nicer than this.  

But in the end, it was Aeryn, and she was holding him, and that was enough.  

“Give it time,” she whispered in his ear, somehow knowing that he was upset.  “It will get better, and then we will
do this again.”  

“Geyh,” his mouth said instead of ‘okay’.  

They stayed that way -- with him helpless to do anything but lean his full body weight against her, and with
Aeryn’s strong, supple arms keeping him safe -- long enough for him to discover that it was easier to breathe
with her arms around him.  Everything was easier with her arms around him, as a matter of fact.  Coping with
the lights and the loud sounds and the cold and the fatigue were all bearable as long as Aeryn had her arms
around him and her fingers were brushing through the hair at the back of his head.  It didn’t matter that it hurt,
or that each sensation was like a feeling that had been borrowed from someone who experienced the universe
differently than he did.  All that mattered was that he was there, and Aeryn was there, and she was talking to
him and stroking his back.    

He spent several microts working to loosen his throat, tried clearing it a little, and then attempted the talking
trick another time.  “Lo’ you,” emerged on a strangled cough and a trickle of water coming from his nose.  

“I know you do.”  Aeryn shifted to one side so she could wipe his face with an edge of a towel, and then she
pulled him tightly against her.  “You showed me that yesterday.  Thank you.”

“Th’ng f’wha?”  Aeryn continued to rub his back through the towels.  It was worth every bit of effort he had put
into surviving long enough to arrive at this moment.  He was close to a breakdown.  

“For coming back to me.  For not quitting yesterday.  I understand how hard that was for you.”  She finished by
kissing the side of his neck, still holding him tightly.  

The breakdown arrived and he was incapable of doing anything to hide that he was crying.  But Aeryn was
talking to someone else, and a pair of hands lifted his head and rolled it to the side.  When he came to rest, his
nose was tucked into the hollow of Aeryn’s neck where he could smell her, the smooth skin of her shoulder was
pressing against his cheek, and best of all, his face was hidden from view.  

“Go ahead,” she encouraged him in a thick voice that he thought might mean she was crying too.  “That’s
good.”

Aeryn shifted her hug to a spot higher on his shoulders, cradled the back of his head with one hand, and
rocked them together.  Sometimes she whispered small encouragements to him, and sometimes she rubbed his
back, but most of all she simply held him and did her best to merge their two bodies into one, making up for his
inability to move.  He wanted to tell her some things about how wonderful this felt, and how glad he was that
they were there together.  But the only two words that ever came out sounding anything like the way they were
supposed to were “Lof you”.  He said them several times, hoping she would understand that he wanted to say
more.  It seemed to be more than enough for Aeryn.      

“I think you’re probably cold and tired,” she said eventually.  

“Heh,” he said into the side of her neck.  He had meant to say ‘Yeah’.  

“They’re going to take care of that.  Relax and trust them, John.”  

“Geyh.”  

Aeryn released him and he was tilted back into a flurry of firm but gentle hands.  They were passing through a
doorway when he noticed that Aeryn wasn’t with him anymore.  

‘AERYN!?’ he called, frightened by her absence.  Being carried through a doorway meant bad things were
going to happen to him.  The people carrying him took no notice of his scream.  Aeryn must have heard him
though because she reappeared by his side at a run.  Everyone stopped moving so she could talk to him.  

“I need to dry off and get dressed.  I want you to trust them, John.  Listen carefully.  They will not hurt you.   I will
come find you in an arn or two.”  

He looked around at the host of calm blue faces, remembered something Aeryn had told him once about ‘Nice
People’, and began to calm down.  

“Geyh.”  

“I will catch up to you soon.  Remember one thing for me, John.  You need to remember that you can trust
them.”  

“Geyh.”

“Trust them.  Trust the Nice People,” she repeated.  “If they want to do something to you, trust them.  They
won’t hurt you.  Remember that for me.”

“Geyh.”  

He kept his eyes on Aeryn until they turned a corner and she was out of sight.  After that there was little to look
at except the ceiling and walls moving past him and the look-alike Nice People who were carrying him, none of
which was very interesting.  And he was tired to the point of exhaustion, so he let himself drift off, and at some
point fell asleep, still thinking of having Aeryn’s arms around him and her quiet whispers filling his ears.

                                                                             * * * * *

John was awakened soon after by a vigorous toweling, accomplishing something more than drying him off.  It
went on too long, scrubbing hard at skin that responded viciously to the harsh motion.  He jabbered a complaint
at them, trying hard to turn the sounds into something that made sense and failing miserably. The longer he
talked, the worse it got, until even he had no idea what he was saying.  Somehow the message got across
anyway, because someone using a language he did not recognize provided an explanation that had to do with
how long he had been submerged and the need to remove the sloughing, waterlogged skin.  He tried again to
explain that it hurt.  This time he got a response in the form of gentle fingers pressing against his temples.  
When the brisk massage set off another cascade of pain, the discomfort was magically drawn away.  They
finished the all-over scouring, rafts of skin coming away in fragments, then they moved him to a depression
filled with warm water and bathed him one more time, removing the detritus of their efforts.

This was better.  This was almost like being back in the pool only nicer.  They propped his head up on
something soft and squashy so he could watch, and proceeded to bury his body in sloppy lather.  It was warm
and slippery and barely hurt at all, and he spent several microts futilely wishing that Aeryn could join him in the
tub.  

A pile of lather crept up his chest.  He puffed a lungful of air at it.  The effort set off a round of deep, spine-
shuddering coughs, but the results were worth the pain.  Bubbles went sailing in every direction.  

“Thank you for your assistance, John Crichton,” one of the Nice People said.  

He laughed, accepting the coughing consequences.  The speaker had bubbles sprinkled through her hair and
a glob spattered across one cheek.

“Here, play with this instead,” she said.  Someone dug his hand out of the soapy water and placed a sponge in
it, curling his fingers around it when he could not.  

“Boah,” he requested.  

“Both?”  

“Heh.”  
His second hand was located and wrapped around the bubbly sponge.  He could feel it correctly.  The
discovery nearly overwhelmed his scant ability to control his emotions.  His hands were okay.  The bubbles
oozed around his fingers normally, and then crawled up his wrists where they shifted into an abrasive
sandpaper scratching sensation.  But the scrub was pleasantly forgiving against the palms of his hands, and
the hot water streaming out of it seemed to enter his soul from his fingers and spread out in all directions.  He
relaxed, beginning to think that some day his entire body might relearn the correct responses to various types
of touch.  

“Niegh,” he said, trying to tell them it felt nice.  A pair of hands trailing water and soap suds tugged the sponge
loose, dunked it in the tub to recharge it with bubbles, and tucked it back into his grasp.  “Ganss.”  He had
meant to say ‘thanks’.  John decided to give up talking for a while.  

“Aren’t you tired?” someone asked.  

It was like a magical incantation that sapped him of strength and the ability to stay awake.  Reminded that he
had already had a long stressful day, he was suddenly too tired to pay attention to what was going on around
him.  John closed his eyes and let the gushes of hot water flooding over his body carry away both the bubbles
and his ability to think or respond.  The sponge was drawn out of his hands, he was shifted onto first one side
and then the other to finish rinsing him off, and then he floated through the air to land on another comfortably
curved surface. This one was filled with soft padding that received his body as though it had been grown to
accept him.  He was covered with several layers of thick insulating fabric that kept him wondrously warm, and
then the real challenges began.  

They started by asking him a strange question consisting entirely of images.  It had something to do with
whether he would mind breathing heated air, which would help his lungs revert to their normal function.  Half
asleep, barely aware of how many Nice People were there or what they were doing to him, he struggled to put
the wordless request into a form he could analyze.  Thinking had become an impossible task, making a decision
was virtually inconceivable.  He took another breath, setting off the irritating gurgling deep inside his chest, and
the images came again:  a query about taking care of the last puddles in his lungs.  

These were the Nice People.  That much he could remember.  But that did not help him formulate an answer.  
Thinking was too hard.  None of the images cooperated when he tried to organize them into some form of
pattern that would lead to a decision.  He was confused and that made him frightened.  He did not like being
this confused over such a simple question.   

“N’yn,” he told them, hoping they would bring the one person he could count on to dispel the disorder in his
mind.  

“Aeryn Sun is changing into dry clothes right now, John Crichton.  She will come to see you very soon.  May I
help you right now?  Would that be all right?”  

He roused himself enough to look at the strange and familiar woman, one small piece of his mind telling him that
he should know who she was, and only felt more confused.  “Huu?” he asked.  

“Who am I?”  She waited until he nodded.  “My name is Tahleen, and I am a friend.  I was not always a friend,
but you and Zotah Zhaan turned me into one of your friends.”  

“Z’n?”  The horrible gurgling made it difficult to breathe, even more difficult to talk.  

“Do you remember Zhaan?”  Tahleen placed a hand on his forehead.   A portion of the headache that had
been making it hard to think disappeared.  

“Unh.”  

Triggered by the repeated efforts to talk, he began coughing.  It hurt.  He was tired and confused, the quiet
dreaming place was too close, and the persistent coughing hurt more with every spasm.  He wanted Aeryn.  He
wanted the one person who could make the dreaming place stay away and who would tell him what to do.  
Tahleen and another one of the Nice People turned him on his side so that the next time he coughed the fluid
in his chest could escape.  Torrents streamed out of him on the waves of pain produced by the coughing.  They
wiped his mouth, and waited patiently until he could breathe without difficulty.  

“Let me help you with this one decision, John Crichton.  Let us do what is necessary to make this better.  Aeryn
Sun asked you to trust us.  Trust me on this issue.”

He had forgotten that request.  Aeryn had even said it several times, and he had forgotten it anyway.  John
gave up trying to think.  It was useless.  He nodded, not knowing whether it was the right decision and not
caring either way, relying entirely on Aeryn’s command that he trust the Nice People.  

Tahleen spoke to someone behind him, and a thick, fibrous mask slid into place over his mouth and nose, warm
air providing immediate relief as the moisture in his chest began dissipating.  After that there was little to do but
sigh in relief when they pulled the blankets higher around his neck, closing out the last of the cold drafts.   He
was about to go back to sleep when Tahleen appeared by the cradle-like bed with several other blue people
and asked if he would talk to them for a short time.  This time he remembered that he was supposed to trust
them, and he nodded his willingness to try.   

A long conversation followed, conducted without words.  They wanted to know things; there were all sorts of
baffling questions.  He showed them what little he could, and they did not seem to mind that he knew next to
nothing about everything.  He tried to be helpful, but they were asking him things he was sure he had never
known.  When confusion threatened, they assured him it was acceptable to not know anything, and the
muddled mess in his mind no longer seemed to be a problem.  

They wanted to touch him next, and that was better.  By this time it was all he could do just to stay awake, but
being touched he could do without exerting any effort.  They pulled away the covers one section at a time,
retaining the most warmth possible, and went about learning him by fingertips.  Not a scrap of skin went
unexplored, not a piece of physiology was passed over.  They sometimes stopped and held a conference,
dozens of fingers lightly brushing against one spot or another.  It made very little sense, but it did not hurt very
much, so he did not mind.  When they finished there was a series of ideas that meant something about getting
some sleep, and he agreed to that with a sigh of relief.  He breathed the warm air that was easy to suck into his
lungs, and let them do whatever they wanted as he slid away into a new quiet, dreaming place where he did not
have to do anything but lie in the cocoon of blankets and try not to make the whining noises when the pain got
too bad.

“John Crichton, does something hurt?” one of the Nice People asked in a near whisper.  

“Uh huh,” he answered, his voice muffled by the mask.  

“We will take care of the pain in a few microts.  If you can relax, that will help.”  

He was picked up, and toweled off, and dressed.  They finished drying his hair, and then they put him to bed.  
Someone, someone, someone.  Someone used to do that a long time ago.  A face with light colored hair, safety
and love.  He couldn’t remember.  

He was lifted, which was excruciating, carried to a quiet, dimly lit room, and laid on his side in another
wondrously soft bed.  Pillows and covers were tugged into place, and he was finally left alone with the exception
of a single Nice People who sat down at the foot of the bed.  A silent voice spoke, giving him an anchor for his
thoughts, a hand touched his ankle and the pounding unpleasantness was pulled away, drawn from his body
like someone was pulling a string.  He would have sobbed with relief if he had the energy left to make a noise,
but he simply sighed instead and went to sleep.  

                                                                              * * * * *

Aeryn followed the others as they approached the room where they were told they could find Crichton,
searching through her emotions to determine why she was suddenly so hesitant to see him.  There was a
breath-catching tightness in her chest wrapped around a fear that the remaining damage could not be
repaired.  She had known it was a possibility from the first day they had brought him here, but she had not
expected that concern to slow her footsteps to an amble at this moment.  Not when they had accomplished so
much.  It was clear that Chiana did not have that problem.  The nebari was eagerly leading the way, showing no
indecision about the next few moments.  She was bounding ahead to where Meylan waited for them beside a
doorway.  

He waited until Aeryn moved into the small huddle and then began to speak softly even though the door was
closed.  “We have finished our assessment, and have begun further repairs to Crichton’s nervous system.  You
must keep in mind that there is still a great deal of damage to be addressed.”  Meylan let them absorb his
information bit by bit.  “His capacity for language is severely restricted.  He understands far more than he can
convey, but his access to his memory has been badly affected.”

“Crichton was talking before we got here,” Chiana objected, cocking her head as she watched Meylan’s
reaction to her accusing tone.  “He was saying all sorts of things.  Is he worse than that now?  Why is he
worse?”  She pulled her arm away from D’Argo, who was trying to calm her long enough for Meylan to explain.  

“His utterances before you arrived demonstrate what we have already determined -- that the knowledge is still
there.  It is his access to that information that has suffered extensive degradation over the past days,” he said
gently, focusing his gaze on Chiana.  “Most of the restrictions are due to physical injury.  Some of the
regression, however, is due to deliberate sequestering.  John Crichton has used his free time to shut off certain
memories that he does not wish to recall.”

“Explain the new losses,” D’Argo demanded.  “Why has his ability to speak gotten worse?”  

Meylan nodded in the luxan’s direction, acknowledging the need for further explanations.  “Each time we repair
some of the injuries, other areas will be adversely affected.  Opening one door may result in another being
closed in compensation.  All will be restored eventually.  It will, however, take a great deal of effort to complete
the healing process.”     

This time it was D’Argo who broke away from the group, letting out a long growl as he stalked several paces to
on side to kick at a wall.  The entire passageway seemed to undulate with the power of his blow.  His back
remained turned, his head hanging, as Meylan continued.  

“We believe he will eventually make a full recovery, but you must be very patient.  He has already shown some
small degree of improvement.  Take heart in that.  We will explain all of this in greater detail over the following
days.  For now, he is anxious and it would help him to see all of you.”  

Meylan surveyed the silent group and the woeful expressions.  “It will not benefit him if he senses any distress
or hesitation on your part.  I believe that all of his memory will return in time.  Now you must believe that before
you go in to talk to him.  If you cannot provide that level of assurance, then I would ask that you wait here.”

Aeryn shouldered her way between Chiana and Rygel’s throne sled, freed from her moment of reluctance.  “I
believe Crichton will recover fully.”  

D’Argo moved to Aeryn’s side in two long steps, his raised head and direct stare telling of his confidence in the
future outcome.  

“I haven’t seen it, but I believe it.”  Although Chiana’s remark clearly puzzled Meylan, she continued to pace
back and forth behind Aeryn and D’Argo without offering any further explanation.  

“I am confident that he will return to his annoying, loud, ugly, stubborn self,” Rygel said.  

There was silence from the remaining member of the group.  They all turned to look at Jool:  the intellectual, the
educated pragmatist.  She shook her head.  “I want to see him restored to normal as badly as the rest of you,
but he is so badly injured … I believe I would better serve his recovery if I do not go in with you.”  She looked
directly at the assembled group, her icy reserve firmly in place, the apparent confidence betrayed by her
fingers, which wandered untended to pick at the edge of her stiff garment.  “If he remembers me long enough to
ask, you can tell him I went back to Moya in order to let her and Pilot know how he is doing.”

Aeryn was pleased that Jool had been honest about her reservations.  She had put John’s well-being above
her own self-interest, risking the irritation of her companions in order to do what was right.  She reached toward
the interon in thanks and understanding.  Jool’s head came back up, reinforcing her cool demeanor, and Aeryn
settled for nodding her appreciation.  

“We are taking steps to alleviate some of John Crichton’s discomfort.  Do not permit his symptoms to
discourage you.  He is in exceptional condition considering what he has been through.  Come.”  Meylan slid the
door open and led the way into a dimly lit room.  

Aeryn followed first, carefully picking her way around a number of objects that looked a cross between medical
instruments and odd fungal growths.  Her bare feet made no sound as she crossed the floor, which was warm
and springy under her step and felt like the fibrous innards of a large plant.  This part of the sanctuary was well
beyond the boundaries of the original ship that they had sunk here, and looked like it had been grown more
than burrowed into the earth.  

She did not see John at first and as a result, she nearly bumped into Meylan when he stopped before she
expected him to come to a halt.  

Crichton was lying on his side in a semi-spherical bunk suspended from a wall at about waist level.  His head
rested on a large pillow, sinking in deeply enough that it was clear he had no control over his neck muscles,
and the remainder of his body was buried under blankets.  Aside from his head, only one foot and ankle
showed, and that was almost completely obscured by the hand of a priest who sat silently near the end of the
bunk.  When Meylan had mentioned that they were alleviating John’s pain, she had not expected someone to
be assuming this particular burden for arns at a time.  

Turning her attention away from that selflessness, her first glance in John’s direction was met by a pair of
focused, alert eyes.  His delight at seeing them was immediate, only slightly diminished by the fact that he
looked tired and mildly disoriented.  

“Heh!”  John’s typical greeting went a little wrong at the end.  

An instant later everyone was talking to him at once.  At first he looked pleased to have the excited group
beside him, but under the barrage of greetings and comments his expression gradually reverted to the
confused fretful look that was rapidly becoming a familiar sight.  Aeryn dropped out of the chaos first, and put
her hand lightly on his cheek to reassure him.  Behind her, the others quieted down.  John let out a sigh and
gave them all a mild, wan-looking smile.  

Aeryn looked at Meylan.  “Will it hurt him if we touch him now?”  

Although he shook his head, something in his expression suggested that there would be pain and that any
physical hurt would be more than offset by a benefit.  

Aeryn turned her attention back to John and ran her thumb along his jaw.  “You look pretty good for someone
who drowned.”  

He smiled more widely, sighed, and didn’t say anything.  She moved away from his head so the others could
move into his line of sight, letting her hand slide down his body as she went, maintaining a light contact so he
would know she had not left completely.  John watched her until she came to a stop near his feet, then returned
to smile at the rest of his friends.

“Deh,” he greeted the person standing closest.  

“How are you feeling, John?”  D’Argo’s hand brushed a quick hello against his hair in time with the quiet
inquiry.  

“Beh-er.”  The body under the blankets shook slightly, belying his short assurance, but the smile on his face did
not waver for a microt.  Another shudder hit him and he almost grunted, letting out a small unvoiced exhalation.  
His stare remained locked on the luxan next to him.  “Yuh?”  

“He’s a lot cleaner than he’s been since you’ve known him, Crichton.  It’s good to see you awake.”  Chiana slid
in front of D’Argo, crouching down to get face to face with the bundled astronaut.  “I’m really glad to see you.”  

“Me. Too. Pi’.”  

Although he continued to look pleased to have his friends by his bedside, Aeryn noticed that the lines around
his eyes were starting to get deeper and he was sweating.  

“Who … ‘ere?”  He was trying to see more of the figure that was hidden behind everyone else.  

“Crichton.”  Rygel moved into the space created by D’Argo and Chiana moving to the sides.  “I suppose you will
be back on Moya with your incessant chatter all too soon.”  His earbrows arched upwards as he waited for a
reply.  

John struggled with something, sweating harder with each passing microt.  “’pardnie,” he finally produced on a
small burst of air, and then he grinned at the hynerian.

“Sparky,” Aeryn deciphered, and got a tiny nod of confirmation from John.

“Absolutely no change at all,” Rygel grumbled, but the earbrows had not drooped.  If anything they had lifted
even higher.  

John shifted slightly under the blankets and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, suddenly pale.  He was still
smiling when he looked at them, but it was requiring more effort with every passing microt, and he was starting
to look as though he felt ill.  

D’Argo noticed the change and moved to cut the visit short.  He squatted down to meet Crichton face to face
the way Chiana had done.  “You need to get some more rest, and it looks like they’re taking excellent care of
you, John.  Get some sleep, and we’ll be nearby if you need anything.”

“Geyh.  Buyh.”  He watched as they began leaving.  “A’yn.  D’n go?”  She returned to crouch next to him,
balancing on her toes, resting her forearm on the side of the bed and then placing her chin on top.  Chiana
glanced back at where they faced each other, nose to nose, smiled broadly, and then followed the others out of
the room.  

“What?” Aeryn asked him.  She began a motion that would have led to stroking his cheek, driven by a deep
desire to maintain some form of physical contact with him.  John watched the fingers approach without a
complaint, but his eyes narrowed just before she would have touched him.  It was an involuntary flinch in
preparation for anticipated discomfort.  She made a detour and brushed against his hair instead, repeatedly
flipping one or two damp tufts.  John relaxed.  Tension settled out of his shoulders, and he suddenly looked
exhausted.  

“Wha’s … M’ya?” he said, struggling through the small syllables.      

She thought about the answer for a few microts, comparing the obvious answer to the types of images she had
encountered during the Meetings.  “She’s huge.  A gleaming, bronze beast of burden shining in the starlight.  
She has long golden hallways, and she makes rumbling noises all the time.  She does this amazing thing called
starburst when we are in a hurry.”  She saw the relief on his face and stopped.  

“Shi’ … S’bace ship.”  He thought about it a bit longer.  “Arms.  Who’s … arms?”  She watched with growing
concern as it took more and more effort for him to form words.  Crichton coughed deeply several times, eyes
closing as the spasms set off an obviously vicious reaction throughout his body.  A trickle of fluid ran across the
pillow from the corner of his mouth, followed by more as another bout of coughing shook him.  

“Hold on, I’ll get --”  

A hand touched her hip, startling Aeryn to the point that she jumped and lost her balance.  She clutched at the
edge of the bunk, hauling herself back to her precarious position sitting on her heels.  She took the proffered
towel out of the hand of the priest, dividing her attention between the person at the foot of the bunk who was
assuming much of John’s pain, and the patient himself who was snuffling into the pillow, laughing at her.  

“Think that’s funny?” she asked him, wanting to laugh herself just because he was recovered to the point where
he could find humor in such a small event.  

“Tid nuffer,” he snickered.

She could not turn it into anything recognizable.  “Can you say it again?  Slower?”

“Ti’d ofer,” he said on the second try, still laughing at her.  

“I tipped over?  You’re laughing because I lost my balance?”

John nodded.   

She didn’t respond to his goading as she mopped away the small puddle, using the microts to search for some
trivial, lighthearted comment that might not challenge his faulty memory.  “You’ll get yours later,” she threatened
finally, blotting away the sweat that rolled down his face.  “You’ve done enough for one day.  Go to sleep.”

“Nuh.  ‘rms?  Whoss …”  

She laid a finger on his lips to silence him.  “I’ll tell you.  Save your energy.”  

John made another attempt to say something, setting off another bout of coughing.  

“Will you shut up, Crichton?” she said, reprimanding him.  She settled forward onto her knees and stared into
the blue eyes, immersing herself in the awareness present there.  “I can’t believe how nice it is to be able to say
that to you.”  He stared back, making no further attempt to talk.  “Arms,” she confirmed.  He nodded almost
entirely with his eyes, barely moving his head.  “That’s Pilot.  He’s part of Moya now.  They exist together.”

John looked puzzled.  Aeryn leaned back from the bunk and gesticulated.  “Huge shell like this” -- her hands
waved to either side of her head, describing an object wider than her shoulders -- “and eyes like this.  Only
when he gets excited, his eyes bulge out.”  

As her hands made another wild gesture his face finally cleared, understanding achieved.  “Ca’s … me … ”  He
got stuck on the next syllable.

“He calls you Commander Crichton,” Aeryn filled in for him.  “Can you not worry about this anymore and get
some rest?”  She touched his cheek lightly.  “Or would you like me to stay for a little longer?”  The Pa’u at his
feet stopped chanting, pulled the blankets down and left the room without speaking.  John showed no sign that
the healer’s absence was affecting him.

“C’n go.  I … s’eep.”  As if to prove himself right, his eyes closed and he was suddenly gone.  Aeryn remained
kneeling nose to nose with him, playing lightly with one errant tuft of hair, tugging at it repeatedly.  She stopped
when his expression shifted slightly, waiting until he settled down again.  She pulled the one lock down into
place and watched as it sprang back up.  The motion was repeated several more times with the same results,
then she got to her feet and stretched, feeling exhausted all of a sudden.

“Sleep well, John Crichton.”  The corners of his mouth might have twitched, tugging it into a hint of a smile, but
other than that, he did not stir.

                                                                             * * * * *

Aeryn walked into the quarters that had been provided for them to find Chiana and Jool already stretched out
and half asleep.  It was the equivalent of early afternoon in the delvian habitat and they all seemed to be
headed for bed rather early.  She sat down on the edge of the bunk she had been using and tried to summon
the energy to pull off her clothes.

“It’s the relief,” said Jool, after she had been sitting there for more than twenty microts.  “Release of the
tension.”  

“It’s ridiculous,” Aeryn countered, knowing she did not have the energy to stay awake, and feeling as if she was
being weak anyway.  “I got up late this morning.”  

Chiana rolled over to look at her, white hair already a mess from burrowing into the pillow.  “We’ve all been
awake for almost thirty five solar days, Aeryn.  Ever since he got captured.  Face it and get some sleep.  He’ll
still be here in the morning.”  

‘He’ll still be here.’  It sounded so nice.  Aeryn lay down fully clothed and went to sleep.  


                                                                           * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chapter 7                                                                                                                                                                                   Chapter 9
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