Child Of The Night - Chapter 9
He slept, but he heard and knew at the same time. He slept, but he knew when they came and carried him back
to the pool. He was not expected to breathe the water this time. He was submerged just far enough so his face
was the only part of his body left out of the water, allowing him to breathe the air that slid into his lungs with less
effort than the soothing, warm liquid. He slept but he heard the gurgle and wash of the waves filling his ears,
and felt the laying on of more than a dozen hands to begin the gradual rebuilding of destroyed pathways. Each
success led to a small shudder of sensation as his body rediscovered something other than pain. The small
successes began to add up, followed by the uncomfortable twitches and jerks that could not be controlled.
They swelled, multiplying, until he needed to yell and found that he couldn’t. It stopped anyway.
They let him float for what seemed like ages, stroking and quieting the newly awakened synapses. Then they
let him rest, body tingling, giving him time to relearn what each nervous response was supposed to mean. For
the first time since his destruction, there were brief moments when the blankets and clothes felt soft against his
skin, a dimly remembered pleasure. He got to lie on his side again, a position he really liked. They were all
leaving when one of them returned and reached under the covers to find his arm. She brought his fist up to lie
tucked near his chin, smiled and left. How could she know he liked that? He hadn’t known it himself.
A small noise near the bed woke him. He expended the effort to lift one eyelid in order to take a look. Easy
softening in his stomach and the last of the pain was forgotten, lost on the wind of passionate love. Sleep
would have to wait.
“A’yn.” Pronunciation remained a hit-or-miss venture, assuming he could remember the correct word in the first
“Close your eyes, John, I’m not supposed to be in here disturbing you.”
She knelt down, resuming the familiar nose-to-nose position. Her breath drifted gentle and warm on his cheek.
It was very nice.
“I’m only going to stay a few microts. Everyone is worried about you, but we didn’t think we could slip more than
one person past the delvians. How are you feeling?”
“Bedder.” He wanted to tell her not to leave, not to go, to stay with him forever. The symbols were there; the
appropriate sounds eluded him.
“Really? You’re not just saying that?”
She was tugging on his hair. He was in danger of a complete emotional meltdown.
“Uh huh. Loogk.” He did not have the energy to explain that the disgusting gurgling in his chest had gone
away, or about relearning that blankets were soft, so he did the trick he had discovered while they had been
dressing him. He concentrated on the hand nearest his chin and waved two fingers at her, the only portions of
his body that he seemed to have any control over at this point. His reward was her finger tracing a path down
his cheek, her touch so light and tender it was barely stronger than the feathery caress of her breath. It was
enough to set off a huge shudder throughout his body and a hot burning behind his eyes. He was so glad to
have her here.
“If you’re better, then what’s this?” She wiped away the tears.
He stared at her for a long time, knowing every wrinkle and line on her face, the shape of her jaw, the line of
her nose, the strange radiating pattern in the irises of her eyes. So much inside his head seemed to be
missing, but all of this was there for the asking day or night, every detail clearly imprinted in his memory.
Another shudder ran through him accompanied by a wave of pain. He barely noticed it, caught up in the
beauty of the woman gazing at him as though he were something rare and precious. He watched her eyes
narrow in concern and it was as if every moment of pain and fear had been erased, removed by the love of one
“Love you … so musch.” That did it, Einstein, he thought to himself, now she’s crying. It made two of them.
“Mush?” she asked him through her tears. Her gentle mocking of his slurred speech left him feeling faint -- as
though someone had removed all of the oxygen from the room. He wanted her to continue until he passed
“Much,” he said with deliberate care. It was easier to put the sounds together correctly when someone else
said them first. He could copy the noises more easily than he could dream them up himself.
“I kind of liked the mush,” she continued to tease him.
Laughter bubbled up amidst the tears. It hurt more than anything that had happened to him since they took
him out of the pool, even more than coughing, but it was worth each and every shudder and jolt of pain.
“Aeryn?” he asked again when he could catch his breath.
“Yes?” Her voice was thick with tears now, sniffles mixing with the laughter; it wasn’t just him. He laughed
again, shuddering from the pain. “What is it?” she asked when they both calmed down.
“Wha’s an … Eins’ein?”
* * * * *
They sat comfortably in a tight little group. Aeryn had chosen the floor, long since having discovered that the
slightly springy feel and the warmth that flowed out of it was relaxing as well as reassuring. D’Argo was sitting
on a bench behind her. His knee was providing a brace for her to lean against. Everyone except Rygel was
making some form of physical contact, and the hynerian had gone so far as to set his throne sled down on the
bench next to Jool. They all seemed to be seeking reassurance from each other in a manner they did not
resort to very often. Aeryn wondered if it was their own psyches at work, or if the delvians were influencing
them in some manner.
Meylan, Daaren and Tahleen sat on separate benches facing them, preparing to teach them what would be
needed in the days ahead. Over the eight planetary days since John had been removed from the pool, every
priest in the habitat had been working around the clock to restore his nervous system to normal. Everyone
involved looked exhausted. Aeryn was intensely aware of how many times John had been taken to the pool in
order for the teams of priests to coax his malfunctioning body back into working order. Time of day did not
matter. As soon as they deemed John sufficiently rested to withstand another session, he was returned to the
pool. Sometimes he was allowed to sleep for eight or ten arns, if that was what it took to recoup his stamina.
Other times he was given only an arn or two -- just enough time for the pain to recede -- before he was hustled
back into the water.
Daaren, the healer who specialized in physical maladies, had been summoned to John’s bedside so many times
they finally moved healer and healing into a larger room and Daaren had taken up residence alongside his
patient. It was Daaren’s extensive knowledge of what the delvians termed ‘animal’ physiology that everyone
turned to whenever they encountered a problem that affected John’s electrochemical and neurotransmitter
levels. It was taking an around the clock, non-stop effort to maintain an acceptable balance as John’s body
underwent its own internal struggle to adjust to the reawakening impulses.
John was never left alone. Night or day, awake or asleep, it made no difference. There was always a delvian
sitting with him, watching for the malfunctions that threatened his recovery and sometimes even his life. The list
of problems plaguing him was endless. Over the past six days, he had suffered numerous bouts of respiratory
arrest, convulsions, seizures, cramps, agonizing muscle spasms, vomiting, several episodes of total or partial
paralysis, headaches, and a daylong bout of blindness when his optic nerves had mysteriously ceased to
function. Each repair seemed to set off an avalanche of other problems until Daaren and his team finally made
a decision to stop chasing the cascades and work from the most basic responses outward to the smaller
The new approach was working, but it meant that John had to endure some of the symptoms longer, suffering
for arns or in one case for more than a day until the team addressed the affected system in its proper
sequence. He did not have the memory or the emotional stability to cope with the problems in a balanced
manner. Aeryn and the rest of the crew had set up their own rotation to ensure that someone was always with
him, sitting alongside a Pa’u to make sure that John had a familiar face beside him in case he was assaulted by
another attack from his own body.
He was trying. Enough of his personality had been restored for him to realize that he was supposed to control
his fear and anxiety. He would fight to keep his emotions in check, but he did not have the tools to complete
the job on his own. In each case, the confusion ultimately overcame his tenacity and he would descend into
anger, tears, panic, or a combination of all three.
And this was only the beginning of his recovery.
It wasn’t any easier for the rest of them. Sitting beside him for interminable arns when he had lost his sight had
been a test of her ability to keep her emotions in check. Watching the familiar eyes gazing into space without
focusing on anything had been a too familiar reminder of the twelve days it had taken to reach the New Moon of
Delvia. Watching him search for something he could not see and start to panic had been many times worse.
As with everything else, John had done his best to stay in control of his reactions, and had come up short.
After enduring several arns of anxious calls to make sure someone was there, they had discovered that if two of
the crew held a hushed conversation beside his bed, John would go to sleep. Hearing their voices whenever
he approached a semi-waking state was enough to remind him that he was safe. He would mumble out a
contented-sounding jumble of syllables, perhaps shift a little under the covers, and drift off again.
It was all paying off though. There was an easily detected improvement after each session in the pool.
Speech, memory, and the ability to reason were all slowly gaining ground; physical healing was more difficult to
discern since John was rarely given any time to work on gaining control of his voluntary motor functions.
“Thank you for what you’ve been doing for John,” D’Argo was saying. “We had no idea it would take this much
effort on your part when we made the request. We are --”
Aeryn watched him struggle to find the right words, equally appreciative and equally at a loss how to express
“We are in your debt now,” Chiana tried.
“Let us say that all debts have been repaid,” Meylan offered. “The process of restoring John Crichton’s health
has been a beneficial process for our community, perhaps more than we can ever explain. We have
discovered talents and capabilities within ourselves that we would not have uncovered if it were not for this
effort. We have benefited from the experience.”
“That still doesn’t begin to offset how much you’ve done for him … and for us,” Aeryn protested. “We … I can’t
begin to …”
A languid motion of Tahleen’s hand stilled her awkward attempt to express her relief at having John restored to
her, albeit badly injured. “We already know, Aeryn Sun. Be assured that we fully understand. But now let us
discuss what still lies ahead for John Crichton.”
“All but the last of the neurons and sensory pathways have been restored,” Daaren began. “We are letting him
rest now, after which we intend to finish this last process. It should begin in about six arns, depending on
Crichton’s condition.” He waited for a few nods before continuing. “This last portion will be the most difficult
both for him and for us, because it involves reestablishing connections that were most affected by the
mistreatment. We expect that he will sleep for a solar day minimum after we have finished, and then we would
like to discuss what lies ahead a second time. The second discussion will be a bit different, and will be entirely
for his benefit.”
Tahleen took over. “John Crichton is basically intact. All of our methods of determining function indicate that
his memories are still in place, and are ostensibly undamaged. The connections to those memories will have to
be reestablished, and that will take time and a significant amount of patience. This will not be easy for any of
‘Time and patience,’ thought Aeryn. How many times had she heard Zhaan say those words? She wondered if
it was a Delvian thing, or a phrase Tahleen had picked up when she had shared Unity with Zhaan and ripped
knowledge out of her mind.
“How is Crichton supposed to do that?” asked Rygel.
“He won’t do it. You will,” Tahleen said. “His memories will gradually become accessible to him over time
without any intervention. However, the more often you prompt him with ideas and tales from his past, the faster
the connections will be reopened. At some point, all of the remaining barriers will be forced aside by the weight
of returning recall, and that moment may be somewhat traumatic for him. You need to be prepared for it.”
D’Argo’s hand gripped Aeryn’s shoulder as she asked the question, transmitting as much nervousness as she
Meylan smiled. “You already know how to support him when he needs you. You have been doing exactly what
is needed since before you arrived at our sanctuary.”
“What about his physical debilities?” Jool inquired.
Daaren took over again. “His physical condition resembles his mental state. All of the connections will be
reestablished before you depart our refuge, but it will take time for him to learn how to use them again. He will
not be ready to leave for another six or seven planetary days at the very earliest. You must stay here at least
as long as it takes for his body to adapt to the repairs we have been making. The longer you remain, the
easier the process will proceed for Crichton. We encourage you to stay here the greatest length of time
possible without putting you or your ship in peril.”
“It is only a matter of time before the Peacekeepers discover that we are here,” D’Argo said.
“We understand the dangers involved,” Meylan said. “Your presence here is not without risk to us. Just the
same, we have discussed it at length and agree without exception that you must remain here as long as is
feasible. Each additional day will hasten John Crichton’s recovery.”
“It may not be up to us,” D’Argo said evenly.
Meylan made a slow bow with his head. “Understood.”
“Anything else?” Aeryn asked when it appeared that the small debate was completed.
Daaren took the lead, drawing everyone’s attention to him with a graceful movement of his hand and a smile.
“This interval, however long it may be, will also allow us all to begin teaching him how to use his body again.”
The Pa’u healer smiled more widely. “I do not believe that John Crichton will need to be encouraged to regain
the use of his muscles. I would suspect that you will need to restrain him from exceeding his own capabilities.”
Chiana laughed. “They do understand Crichton!”
“The strain on his reserves of energy will be extreme at first. When you return to your ship, he must be
encouraged to eat and rest frequently, and do not be upset if you find him asleep in strange places. If he
expends the last of his stamina at a time when he does not recognize his surroundings, the most natural action
will be for him to simply go to sleep until he can figure it out.” Daaren’s indulgent smile seemed to indicate that
there were some humorous sights in store for them.
“You must keep in mind the level of debility that has been created by the scarran torture. It goes well beyond
his inability to control his muscles. Although a time will come when you will not be able to detect any further
improvements in his condition, his body will still be healing and that is going to exact an enormous toll on his
supply of energy. Until he is fully recovered, John Crichton may spend up to half or even three quarters of his
time sleeping. If he pushes himself too hard, he will appear to pass out, but it will simply be a case of going to
sleep despite any of his efforts to stay awake. This will continue even after he appears to be otherwise fully
“We might need to address that as soon as we get back on board Moya,” Aeryn said. “There are some places
where it would be dangerous for him to take a nap.”
“The DRDs.” D’Argo’s quiet recommendation was answered by quiet mumbles of agreement from the others.
“What else?” Aeryn asked after the delvians were quiet for several microts.
“The degree of simplicity that will exist in his mind at first may be much greater than you anticipate,” Meylan
cautioned them. “A number of days ago the comparison was made to being reborn. This will remain very true
for quite some time. Higher levels of reasoning are not present yet. He has access to very little of his
knowledge, and it will not return in any order. John Crichton will be able to do some complex tasks one
moment, and not remember how to get dressed or open a door the next. As he transitions back to the person
he used to be, you must expect a rising level of frustration. He will begin to sense that he should know how to
do something, and not be able to find the memory.”
“Anger, verbal outbursts, physical violence?” asked D’Argo.
All three priests nodded.
“Crichton at his best,” Rygel pronounced imperiously.
Aeryn nodded, smiling. “Rygel is correct. I think we are well prepared to handle that aspect.” She turned back
to their three tutors. “Anything else?”
“He will not remember his childhood and adolescence at first. His emotional reactions will therefore be
somewhat --” Tahleen was searching for a word again.
“Erratic,” suggested Aeryn.
The voices chimed in from all five of the crewmates, leaving the three delvians simultaneously shocked and
“No change at all,” suggested Rygel at the end.
Meylan nodded, his laughter dying, and then he went silent as the chuckles around him slowly died out. He
appeared to be considering his words very carefully. When he began to speak it was with deliberation. “We
have not been able to explain the reaction that occurred in the pool several days ago. When I relieved his
pain, I received an impression of something hidden very deeply within his mind; something that John Crichton is
unwilling to examine or even admit exists. He has gone to great lengths to bury it as thoroughly as possible.
We are convinced that his pain is a method of insuring that the memories remain sequestered.” Meylan
surveyed the silent group. “This may have nothing to do with his torture, and may never surface.”
“But if it does?” D’Argo asked.
“His physical response was extreme; the mental response may be equally severe.”
“What kind of severe?” Chiana demanded. “Like going nuts or going back into his own skull like he did
before? Or would it be something different this time?”
“That cannot be predicted. It depends upon John Crichton’s ability to cope with whatever he is fighting to keep
hidden.” Meylan waited through the depressed silence, finally resuming when no one had anything to say.
“The possibility exists that his need for restoration may exceed your capacity to cope. If that occurs, or if you
need anything at all to assist in John Crichton’s recovery, please return immediately. If it were not for his
strength and commitment to Zhaan’s well-being, our community would have descended into irreparable
insanity. We exist as a spiritual haven only because he risked himself to save Pa’u Zotah Zhaan, and by
extension all of us.” Meylan made the familiar gesture of acceptance and reverence, passing his hands over
his face and head.
* * * * *
Crichton did his best to relax as he was carried from the dimly lit room where his dreams had been comforting
him. He wasn’t especially worried about where they were taking him; he simply wanted to try getting around on
his own. When he had tried to say something to them about it, the words had come out in a garbled mess. His
second attempt had been worse and he had started to feel frustrated. A hand had rested on his forehead for a
microt and he had been told that it was all natural and correct that he could not talk, so he had done his best to
put the incident out of his mind and settled down to watch the pale walls move by.
They passed through a doorway into an abrupt rise in humidity and temperature, which meant that they were
back in the chamber with the pool. He remembered how this had felt every other time they had brought him
here, and felt the first stomach-squirming hint of concern. His life was filled with discomfort. Every breath and
every waking moment involved at least some level of pain. The pool, however, meant that the intensity was
going to be pushed as high as he could stand it without resorting to screams. They always kept him in the
water until he was drawing in his first deep breath in preparation for putting a voice to his pain. Only then would
they finally relent, stop the session, and take him back to his room to recover.
The pool meant another round of agony.
John wondered if there was some way he could make them understand and put it off for a few more arns. He
was tired of the constant pain. The idea of an arn or two of thorough relief was like thinking of paradise. There
was, of course, always a small chance that this time it might not feel so horrible. Maybe this time it would not
make him feel as though his body had been smashed into tiny bits and then set on fire, all while he was still
There was some quiet talking going on as they set him down on warm tiles. Little of it made any sense. They
pulled the heavy quilted top over his head, helpfully extracting his arms from the sleeves.
“Is hurt?” he asked a slim figure who was loosening the waist of his quilted pants. The blue eyes looked away,
seeking some guidance from someone he could not see, but another voice cut in loudly with an answer he
“Yes, this is going to hurt.”
It was Aeryn!
They frequently would not allow her in the room during his sessions with the Nice People because he had
trouble paying attention to anyone but her and it disrupted the process. He looked to his left and she was
standing there, hovering over the group, looking truly radiant in the filtered light. She was wearing the padded
garments that concealed the contours of her body, but the dark hair falling freely over her shoulders was a
bonus sight that left him breathlessly ecstatic.
“Hey,” he greeted her. There was an objection to Aeryn’s blunt answer from somewhere near his feet just as
his pants were pulled off, leaving him dressed in nothing more than the stretchy, tight-fitting trunks he had seen
D’Argo wearing several times. They left absolutely nothing to the imagination. He grinned at her and waggled
his eyebrows. “You too?” He wanted to know if she was wearing something equally revealing beneath the
loose delvian pants and tunic.
She moved closer to look down at him, her eyes fixed on his. “Later, I promise.” Then she turned toward the
hidden speaker. “He does not need you to try to protect him from the truth about this. Don’t you think he
knows about that by now?” She knelt next to him and put her hand on the top of his head. “Look at what he’s
been through, what he’s been able to endure.” He looked up at her as she ran her thumb through his hair,
rubbing his scalp at the top of his forehead. “Don’t tell him anything other than the truth. Not now.”
An older priest appeared, the two of them hovering above him as he lay on the warm tiles. “I am Meylan Vilar,
John Crichton. Do you remember me from the past days?”
John shook his head, forgoing any attempt at communication. Speech continued to elude him; even the
smallest words insisted on mutating into random noises no matter how strenuous his efforts to get them to come
“Aeryn Sun is correct. This will hurt somewhat, but I think we can help you withstand it.” He smiled at Aeryn. “It
seems that we still have some things to learn about honesty and assessing the mental states of other beings.”
He gave Aeryn a light pat on the shoulder, and disappeared from John’s view.
“What?” She relaxed into a cross-legged sitting position beside him, elbows resting on her knees so she could
lean forward to talk to him.
“I … don’ wanna … go pool.”
She watched him for a long time, her thoughts and emotions hidden behind an impassive look of mild curiosity.
He wasn’t sure how many microts had passed by the time she sighed and looked down at her hands; he only
knew it was longer than Aeryn usually contemplated things. He waited. When she still did not answer him, he
began to wonder if the sounds had come out even worse than he thought. Maybe she hadn’t understood him.
“Ayn?” He wanted to explain to her about the pain. It wasn’t that he didn’t ever want to go in the pool again; it
was just that he needed a break from the unrelenting stream of discomfort. From what Aeryn and the Nice
People had been talking about he had decided that this session might be worse than all the rest. The only
problem he faced was that he was sure he would disappoint Aeryn if he said he didn’t want to do it without
“It hurts, doesn’t it?” she said before he could figure out how to transmit his concern. “All the time, more than
we think. Doesn’t it?”
“I’n tire of ih, Ayn.”
“Meylan says this will be the last one, John. You won’t have to do this again after today.”
He considered that, trying to set up a comparison between what Aeryn told him and … something else that he
could no longer remember. “Duh no,” he told her, hoping she might guess that he couldn’t remember what
decision he was supposed to be making.
“You don’t know what you want to do?”
“Duh no … wha’ I be …” He looked away from her, trying to remember the word he needed.”
“You don’t know what your choices are,” she said with more confidence.
Aeryn leaned back, looked away from him, and made a gesture. Symbols he could figure out. She was telling
someone they needed to wait. She turned back to him and leaned in close, running a single finger up and
down his upper arm. “You can wait until tomorrow, but that means you have to think about it all night tonight,
and it means it may hurt more and take longer tomorrow. Or you can go in the pool right now, and it will be
over. You’ll be able to sleep until you don’t want to sleep any more, and the pain will start to fade tonight.”
Closing his eyes helped a little. He tried to shuffle all the bits from Aeryn’s first sentence to one side of his
brain, and the remainder to the other side, because he knew that was the way people made decisions.
Somewhere in the middle, all the parts got mixed together. It was beyond annoying. It was absolutely
He resorted to the usual solution. “You ‘cide.”
Aeryn smiled at him, which created the fluttery weak feeling in his stomach that he enjoyed so much. “I say we
do this right now, and afterwards you can sleep, and sleep, and sleep until you feel better.”
* * * * *
Aeryn watched from her perch on the tiles as the session wore on into its third arn. The first two arns had
elicited little response from John; he had even looked blissful at first. She had been uneasy when they first
started because of the number of healers surrounding him; but they had laid their hands on him, and begun
without any sign of trouble, and she had gradually relaxed. Meylan and Lorana were side by side at John’s
head with the other six priests arranged in a rough circle around his floating body. John had seemed familiar
with the arrangement. Despite his initial reluctance to go in the water and the number of times he had checked
to make sure she was still in the chamber, he had quickly settled down and had fallen asleep within microts of
being placed in the water. He had twitched from time to time, but the process had continued in silence except
for the quiet chanting rhythms.
It was toward the end of the second arn that he had taken his first deep breath and let it out with the softest hint
of a cry, letting loose a long airy note of discomfort. The chanting had become louder as they took a firmer
hold on his body, and their manipulations had continued without interruption despite the change in intensity.
Now he was starting to fight their grasp and his breathing was becoming strained and irregular.
Aeryn sat up straighter, alarmed by the arrival of two delvians wearing vestments. The two young men moved
quickly through the lapping waves to join the group, securing Crichton’s legs mere microts before he began to
fight the multiple embraces. Aeryn got to her feet, increasingly concerned by the combination of changes.
The waves generated by the struggle began slopping over the edge of the pool. Small rivers were running in
all directions across the tiles, quickly evaporating from the heat. A single wail echoed about the large chamber
as John twisted and arched forcefully within their firm grasp. Ignoring his obvious distress, the stroking
rehabilitation continued, generating another huge lunge against their embrace. Arriving at a decision, Aeryn
slid out of her pants and shirt, dropped into the pool, and surged toward the group.
“Let me help him,” she demanded.
Meylan and Lorana moved apart without answering. Lorana took a quick break to warn her, “You may not be
able to get into his mind,” then joined back in with Meylan, her higher voice a counterpoint to his deep chant.
Aeryn closed her eyes, preparing for the increasingly difficult process of entering John’s mind … and was
violently ripped loose from her body.
We hurt, we hurt.
They gasped with the sudden shock of what they had been fighting. They had not known how bad it would be.
They had tried to tell them, and they had not understood. They had been so arrogant to think that they could
withstand this without trouble after all they had been through.
No, don’t think that. We were right, we can stand it … but we are tired of hurting.
For the first time they became aware of how long they had been in pain, how many days and arns of agony
they had suffered through, and how badly they desired surcease.
This isn’t as bad as before, we were right about that. We are just so tired, so tired, so terribly tired of hurting.
Their mind wandered out of control, driven before the discomfort like a fugitive, and they touched something for
a split microt, something they had not noticed during the past days.
NO!! We can’t go there, that’s where it’s hidden!
Too late, they tried to turn back.
They heard the voice, tried to get clear of the memory before it had time to possess them, and were light-years
too late. Insanity struck. They had a split microt to hope it would rip the two pieces apart. One portion of them
struggled to spare the part that had already been forced to experience this horror, trying to shield the damaged
half. It was futile. The memory tore into them and fused them with its ferocity, a singularity’s compression, a
nova of pain, more than any minds could comprehend.
They were awed, confused, and overwhelmed. No one could survive this. It was impossible.
Their song of strength rose out of the howling of the storm, love and the memory of one woman giving them
everything necessary to hang on. They pulled them away, took them into their arms and dragged them clear of
the memory. Their strength was unbelievable, unfaltering now before the unimaginable.
They looked at themselves with new understanding and love. They could not have known what had been
endured and could not begin to imagine how they had survived it the first time.
They huddled together in the aftermath, apologizing for not warning them that the place existed, that the
unimaginable was stored there, hidden from everyone.
It was not their fault, not their fault.
They should not have learned what it had been like; they should not have had to bear that. That was supposed
to stay forever in their mind without them or the others ever discovering what it had been like.
They will never tell, they will never reveal to the others what they had just seen and felt. Only, why would they
hide it? Why wouldn’t they want their friends to know what it was like?
Explain it to us, they urged. Tell us what we experienced.
They searched for the words that could describe the horror of Kelvo Fourteen, and it lashed out again, curling
around them, enveloping them and hurling them toward insanity.
We understand now, they gasped in the aftermath.
It can’t be considered, remembered, or acknowledged. It is there and always will be, but it must be kept
hidden, locked away forever even from themselves.
Yes, yes, we understand.
But now they needed to go somewhere else to escape this small hurt while it lasted. They couldn’t remember,
couldn’t find somewhere else to exist. It was all blank. Would they help them remember a place?
Yes. Of course. Why would they think otherwise? They considered for a microt, thought taking more effort as
their senses were attacked from outside.
Where, where, where? Hurry. Please hurry, it’s getting worse.
They realized that they were trying to keep more of the discomfort for themselves, to protect this portion of
themselves. Stop it, they ordered. It can’t be done.
We will take this on ourselves, so that we may think quickly and find a place. Just for this moment, think
quickly. We can stand it while we think of a place if it means finding one sooner. We can, we can, we can
They thought of a time of joy and passion …
… and they dove for it in desperation, seeking relief …
… but that had been on board Talyn.
It was their turn to pull them roughly away from a memory, desperately pulling them in any direction except that
one. Not us, not us. We are sorry; we did not mean to go there. They were so much like the other, their
current passion greater for the trials they had both endured, and yet so much the same.
We do not mind, we know now that we love us without comparison. Try again.
Here, we will go all the way back to the first moments. We will share our first memories.
And then the pain was gone as …
She/he regained consciousness still wearing her/his atmospheric rig, helmet locked securely onto the
breastplate. She/he was feeling confused and dazed as she/he lifted her/his head and looked around the
room. She/he was on a leviathan, obviously captured after her/his Prowler had been sucked through starburst
behind the escaping beast. She/he was not worried, these were lower mentality prisoners, and she/he would
be able to overcome them easily and escape. There was a commendation in this somewhere if she/he could
return them all to custody. Perhaps a promotion, but she/he would have to be careful not to get promoted out
of Prowler Command.
Gloved fingers tripped the catch without conscious direction, a motion completed instinctually, and she/he
tipped the helmet forward to examine her/his surroundings more closely. She/he was still a little dazed, so she
was not ready for a male officer to suddenly be in her/his face. His words had no meaning at first, and she/he
was angry for being in this cell so she/he lashed out physically. He was heavy but he did not fight back as
she/he slammed him to the floor and pinned him. He was handsome though, with strange blue eyes, and
she/he felt something odd curl within when he spoke, his voice traveling up her/his spine to ignite something
unknown in her/his head and heart.
We never knew it started then. We thought it took longer.
We aren’t really sure that it did.
When did we know for sure?
We have to see our side first, do we remember this moment?
No, they sobbed, filled with grief at the loss of the memory. They remembered her, but they couldn’t find …
Wait! What is that there? Look! It is the memory, safe and intact. It has not been damaged. We will examine
Yesssss, they remembered now, they remembered! They felt the soft pleasure in their stomach, the tingle
running up their chest. How could we have forgotten that day?
It was all so confusing, mind-altering, unbelievable. He/she stood at the cell door, listening to strange
explanations from a green slug. Nothing made sense although the words were familiar now, due in some way to
the bugs they said they had put in his/her brain. Microbes in his head, that was scary. He/she turned to look
at the other figure that the slug had referred to, suddenly concerned by the appearance of the black bug-like
figure. He/she relaxed when he/she saw it was wearing a helmet. It was moving! He/she wondered what was
inside. This had already been a very long, very bad dream. What could possibly happen next?
The helmet fell clear and he/she saw another human. Thank the Lord, an ally. And a beautiful one at that.
She was gorgeous. The introduction did not go quite as planned though, and he/she was suddenly lying on the
floor, ribs hurting, breath gone, with her legs -- what fantastic legs -- pinning him/her down. She was practically
sitting on his/her face, and if this weren’t so bizarre and if she weren’t choking him/her, he/she would be excited
to have this happening. He/she looked up as she demanded information and he/she heard her name for the
first time. Aeryn Sun. Beautiful woman, beautiful name. Too bad she had just kicked the crap out of him/her.
They were laughing at them.
They did not think it was that funny, they sulked.
Now that they knew what had been going on in their mind while they flung them around the cell, they thought it
was incredibly funny.
They hung suspended together for a time, enjoying what they had just learned about themselves, then they led
them to the first moment they thought they might have known they loved them. They examined the found
moment together, re-experiencing the growing thrill as a new emotion was discovered within themselves,
sharing the sensations, allowing the feelings to compound until the emotions took over their entire awareness
for an unknown length of time.
That felt good, they sighed when it eventually faded away. We should have a similar memory, where is it?
It will return soon, don’t worry.
They thought for a while, trying to choose something they both knew, yet didn’t. Something they could share
with themselves from a double perspective.
Do we remember hanging in space above a burning moon?
A ring on a chain floating away, and … waiting for something, waiting for … nothing was there anymore.
Yes, it is. It is there. All we have to do is find it.
Something dark, something very, very important to us.
Where is Moya? they prompted, trying to get the memory to work itself loose.
We can’t remember that either. Wait! Moya is gone! Are we right?
Yes. Now, what were we waiting for?
There was a gentle interjection, a calm directive from a third source telling them that it was time to go.
We don’t want to leave, this is nice.
We’re going. I promise that there will be time for this later. Follow me, John.
The sudden rush of new sensations, endured alone, was almost more than he could stand. Crichton closed his
lips tightly against the cry of loneliness that rose in his throat. Hands were holding him harshly, increasing the
level of discomfort, and he wanted them to stop the new form of torture. He was twisting helplessly in their
grasp, his body out of control, and he was having trouble understanding why they were treating him so brutally.
These were supposed to be the Nice People. They weren’t supposed to hurt him like this.
A wave of energy rolled through newly awakened nerves, goading his body into another series of frantic
movements that wrenched harder against the restriction to movement. Nothing he tried could control the
battering coming from his own body. He was an involuntary passenger being taken along on an out of control
One wet arm twisted out of the tired clutches of the person on that side, flailing out of the water as the figure
moved out of the way to avoid getting hit. Crichton reveled in the momentary relief that came from letting
overwrought muscles expend their packed energy in a wild dance of discomfort. He wanted to throw himself
across the pool in a frenzy of release, twisting and thrashing until all of the torment went away. Instead, he took
in a deep breath, held it, and willed the free arm to be still. Miraculously, it stopped moving and the priest who
had moved out of range returned, took it up in a light grasp and began stroking the tense muscles as if in
John tried to focus on the similar massaging going on all over his body, using the anchor of the rhythmic
patterns to gradually get himself under control. Nothing hurt any less, but by ignoring the urges to give into it,
the situation became more bearable. The waves washing over him died down, and the hands eased their grip,
reducing the amount of discomfort.
A towel wiped his face, blotting carefully at his mouth, nose, eye sockets. John opened his eyes to see who
was there. There were two of the Nice People … and Aeryn.
“W’ing … for …” He took another breath. “… YOU! Right?” Her smile was all he needed for an answer.
* * * * *
Aeryn pushed her exhaustion aside to where she could ignore it. She was not willing to accept that she had
done anything to warrant the level of physical fatigue she was experiencing. John was the one who had done
all the hard work, if only by coping with the pain. She toweled herself dry then pulled her clothing on. She had
left them lying on the heated tiles as she usually did, and was once again grateful for the warmth stored in the
quilting. The priests still had John in the pool, working to relax taut muscles. There were only Lorana and two
other priests with him, conducting a systematic massage to remove as much discomfort as possible now that he
had stopped thrashing.
Some of the pain had been the result of his shoulder dislocating. As far as anyone could tell, he had wrenched
it right out of its socket at some point during his initial struggles before Aeryn had joined him in Unity. They had
recognized the problem long before the session had ended, and had summoned Daaren immediately. He had
spent more than an arn assessing the injury, trying to determine how to get the joint back into the correct
position without risking greater injury. It was the first thing they had asked John when they lifted his head out of
the water, barely giving him enough time to greet her before inquiring about how to resolve the problem.
That was when Aeryn had been given the first example of the irrational frustration the delvians had warned
them about. Exhausted, crippled, and in enormous pain, there was no reason why John should have
remembered how to get the joint back in place. But when his memory had come up empty, he had gone into an
impotent, splashing rage, capable of little else than wordless screeches of anger and uncoordinated thrashing
within the careful grasp of the group surrounding him.
“John!” she had barked in the end, appalled at his continued fury. “Stop it!”
“Ih’s noh dere! Ih … shoo … be dere!” he had yelled, getting some volume behind the mangled words for the
“We know you don’t have the answer. It doesn’t matter. You’re not supposed to remember at this point. Calm
down!” It had taken forty microts or more to get him under control, after which she had discussed the problem
with Daaren, relating as much as she could remember about the repetitive injury, dredging her memory for
every small tidbit John had ever related about the phenomenon. It had been enough. Meylan and Lorana had
worked in tandem to draw away the agony as Daaren manipulated the joint, finding the magic combination of
angle and force after less than twenty microts. John had made a long gargling sound of relief in the back of his
throat and almost half of the tension drained out of his body -- in contrast to the nausea she had experienced
upon hearing the horrid crunch when his shoulder slid into place.
They began moving John to the side of the pool where four acolytes were waiting towels in hand. He turned to
look at her as lifted him out of the water, and kept his eyes fixed on her for the length of time it took for them to
bundle him into a cocoon of heated towels. He looked gray and exhausted.
“I’ll be along in a few microts,” she assured him as they finished wrapping him up. One eyebrow twitched
upward in an acknowledgement, and then he closed his eyes. There was no further sign of awareness from
Crichton as they carried him away.
Aeryn sat cross-legged trying to finish her braid, soothed by the silence that had stolen over the chamber,
broken only by the soft lapping of the water as the last of the ripples died down. It was peaceful, a vacuum of
sound that drained away the last of her energy until she felt too exhausted to follow everyone else out of the
room. After three tries she managed to fasten the end of the braid, flipped it over her shoulder to hang down
her back, and then waited for the inner strength to get up and go after John.
Meylan appeared at the door with Hasko at his side. “We thought you might be able to use a little support.”
When she didn’t respond they reached down and helped her to her feet. “You will need as much rest as John
Crichton this time,” said Meylan.
Without warning Hasko swung her up and started to carry her.
“This is ridiculous. You can put me down. I didn’t do anything.”
They ignored her demand.
“Your efforts made this a much easier process for John Crichton,” Hasko told her. “Do not underestimate the
physical demands of your contribution. Let us do what is necessary to restore your energy.”
Aeryn shook her head and pushed against him, forcing herself out of his embrace. Hasko lowered her to the
floor, and settled for cupping one hand under her elbow to steady her as they continued more slowly through
“How long were John and I in Unity?”
Meylan gave her a very peculiar look.
“What?” she asked, baffled by the look and their silence.
“You don’t know,” he said. It was halfway between a statement and a question.
His response didn’t provide an answer and irritation scratched at the back of her breastbone, goading her to a
more violent response. “No,” she said shortly, trying to contain her impatience.
They turned into a different chamber than the one where John had been sleeping. Her initial objection died
away as soon as she saw that it was a larger room with several of the bunks arranged on the walls. John was
already in one of the cradle-like beds, sound asleep even though they were in the process of turning him on his
side and getting him settled. Hasko steered her toward a bed across from Crichton’s, directing her to a spot
where she would be able to lie down and still see him.
Aeryn was about to repeat her question about the length of time they had spent in Unity when Chiana burst
through the door, followed closely by the remainder of the crew. The nebari’s trajectory, initially aimed at
Crichton, realigned itself when she saw Aeryn sitting up.
“It’s about time! We were starting to get worried.”
Aeryn shook her head, puzzled by both the comment and Chiana’s level of anxiety.
“Aeryn, it’s been five frelling arns.”
Chiana nodded vigorously.
“Five arns,” she repeated looking at Hasko and Meylan. They both looked smug. She was stunned. They had
explored a lot of things while they were together, but almost three arns in Unity? No wonder she was so tired,
she realized. Just standing there holding John’s head for three arns would be enough to do that.
“It was exceptional,” said Meylan. “We have never seen anything like it, not from two untrained individuals.
There is one thing you should know before you leave, but right now you require rest more than you require
Aeryn looked across at where John was sleeping. Buried under a heap of thermal covers, little more than a
shock of dark hair and half of his face were showing. He may have been mentally shielded for most of the five
arns, but whether he had been aware of it or not, his body had been subjected to an extended assault. Aeryn
slid to the floor and accepted D’Argo’s support in the form of a hand beneath her arm as she walked unsteadily
across the room to look at Crichton more closely.
He had his face half buried in the pillow, mouth open slightly as he slept, emptied of all expression by the
combination of injury and exhaustion. Whoever had arranged him in the bed had tucked one hand close to his
chin again, and his hair was standing up in damp tufts. The two features gave him a disheveled, childish
appearance. She passed a hand over the side of his head, smoothing down several of the tufts of hair, and
the simple gesture generated a full body tremor strong enough that it could be seen through the thick layer of
covers. Aeryn yanked her hand away, remembering too late that it would take several arns before the over-
stimulated nerves calmed down enough that every touch did not generate a burst of pain.
Just as she was about to turn away she saw that the one visible eye was watching her. It was a close run
contest against fatigue, however. He was barely able to keep the single eyelid open.
“I’m sorry,” she said. She hadn’t meant to wake him. He mumbled something, defeating her microbes. “Try it
again.” She leaned closer to hear his slow whisper. “You are incorrigible,” she said, shaking her head. He
smiled at her, the single visible eyelid closing for a long moment and then struggling open to watch her again.
“Soon,” she told him. He went back to sleep.
Her knees buckled, abandoning her at last. D’Argo was waiting beside her though, stalwart and attentive, and
she was scooped up before she could try to regain her balance. The next thing she knew she was in her own
bunk, lying on her side so she could still see Crichton, and they were pulling the blankets over her.
Hasko ushered everyone out of the room, and the lights were dimmed. She checked on the room’s other
occupant. John had not moved so much as a finger, but he was still smiling and as she watched, the one eye
opened again, stared at her drowsily for a microt, and then closed.
Chiana lingered beside her as the others left. “What did he say, Aeryn?”
“He wanted a larger bunk so I could get in with him.”
She listened as the laughter moved out into the hallway, and shortly after heard several other voices joining in
as well. It was dark in the room, but she could still see the gleaming eye checking on her from time to time right
up until she fell asleep.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *