Child Of The Night - Chapter 10
He had been dreaming about rough hands grabbing him, holding him down, hurting him repeatedly, and woke
with an almost-scream stuck in his throat. John struggled to swallow the unvoiced shriek. Every muscle in his
body froze with the exception of those in his stomach, which tossed in rebellion against the pain washing over
him. He did his best to ignore the nausea. Focusing on the rest of his environment seemed like a good way to
distract himself. There was a delightfully squashy surface beneath him, soft smooth fabric against most of him,
and warm fuzzy blankets lying lightly against any remaining bare skin. It was all pleasant and very comfortable.
The only problem was that he had no idea where he was. He was enveloped, free to go back to sleep … and
felt unbelievably sick to his stomach, not to mention scared to the point that he was starting to shake.
The trembling set off an entirely different set of sensations from his body. Pain, sharp and sour, replaced any
suggestion of comfort. He could not remember where he was, and it was too dark to make out any details.
John cast about inside his mind trying to dredge up some memory of where he was or what was happening, and
located only emptiness where his memories should have been stored. The fear compounded, increasing with
every additional microt that he could not remember where he was or what was going on.
Things kept getting worse. His stomach heaved, very nearly managing to eject its contents. He gagged for
several microts, which made it impossible to swallow fast enough to contain the wet rush of saliva that always
seemed to precede vomiting, and the pillow beneath his head was soon soggy with a combination of spit and
tears. He desperately wanted someone to come explain everything to him, and to make the sick feeling and the
pain go away, but he could not remember whose name he was supposed to call out in order to make that
happen. He could not stop the tears either, and could not remember why he was supposed to try in the first
place. The universe devolved into a tightly constricted bubble containing little more than his confusion and his
fear, and he sobbed into his increasingly wet pillow as the pain and nausea took over his entire existence.
The lights came on, startling him, and a moment later someone touched him, running their hand lightly over his
head and continuing onward down his shoulder. The pressure was familiar and overwhelmingly welcome.
“Aeryn,” he cried. Relief managed to make his stomach feel worse instead of better.
“What’s the matter, John? What’s wrong?” She knelt down so she was looking at him eye to eye, rubbing a
series of small circles against the back of his shoulder in an attempt to calm him.
“Wher’ we are?” he asked.
“The New Moon of Delvia. We brought you here so they could heal you.”
“Is … I hur’?” He could not remember anything about what had happened.
“Yes.” Aeryn smiled at him, tilting her head to one side to match his gaze. Her hair sheeted thick and dark
along her shoulder, falling to that side in heavy waves. “You were very badly hurt, but they’re fixing you and
you’re going to get better.” A tear trickled to one side of Aeryn’s face, and that scared him more than not
knowing what was going on. Aeryn never cried unless things were approaching disaster status.
A fragment of recall snapped into place, and he was nearly sick right then and there.
“I … I …” He swallowed against the rising pressure, fighting not to throw up. The one memory he had
managed to locate was a hideous one. “I geh caugh’ by …” He could not remember the word that belonged on
the frightening creatures. “By big lizards?”
Aeryn smiled again, nodding. She did not look like she wanted to smile though; she looked as though she
would have preferred to start crying. “Yes,” she said in a near-whisper. “They’re called scarrans, John. The
scarrans caught you, and they did something terrible to you. But you do not have to worry about that. It’s over,
you’re healing, and we’re going to make sure nothing like that ever happens to you again.”
“Aer’n?” he asked, whining despite his best effort to sound mature.
“Yes?” She palmed away a few of his tears, stroked the hair on the side of his head, and waited without any
sign of impatience.
“I’n gonna be … sigk.” His stomach had already won the battle. He was going to puke, and it was going to
happen very soon. There was no stopping it. The only thing in question at this point was the exact time of his
Aeryn got to her feet and spun around, surveying the chamber, then turned back and smiled down at him.
“Then I guess you’ll be sick.” She pulled the blankets down to his waist, cradled his shoulders in a two-armed
embrace, and shifted him closer to the edge of the bunk in a series of small jerks, grunting with the effort of
moving his inert mass. One more adjustment rolled him nearly onto his stomach and brought his head right to
the very edge of the structure. “If you get sick, you get sick,” she said. “Don’t worry about it.”
“Doan … wanna be sigk,” he complained slickly through a mouthful of saliva. A long rope of drool slid loose
and dropped to the floor, the first sign that he was losing the battle to contain the increasing nausea. “Doan
Aeryn laughed. The quiet vibrations had the unexpected benefit of lessening the anxious feeling in his chest. It
was an odd reaction since he was sure she was laughing at him.
“You don’t have any choice about this, John. It doesn’t matter what you want.” She went on rubbing his back
as he panted and belched and gagged. His stomach went on doing its best to crawl out of his body by way of
“I doan feel goo’,” he moaned.
Aeryn switched to rubbing the small of his back. It made him feel a little better, but it also hurt enormously. The
shudders of pain added to the discomfort in his stomach and brought him just that much closer to the point
where he would not be able to contain it any more. Aeryn stayed close, murmuring small reassurances and
switching to small touches as he gasped and gulped. The crescendo of nausea was rapidly approaching its
“We have him, Aeryn Sun,” a male voice said, breaking into the brief silence.
John did not bother looking up to see who was there; he was too close to puking. There were at least four pairs
of feet aside from Aeryn’s moving around below him, accompanied by louder noises, an increase in the light
levels, and the confusion of several voices talking at once. The covers were stripped away completely, and his
head and shoulders were levitated clear off the edge of bunk. Firm hands grasped him carefully by the
forehead and the base of his throat. Other hands steadied him so he would not slip off the bunk. Someone
slid a pillow under his stomach and encouraged him to curl around it. This last adjustment puzzled him, since it
did not relieve any of the churning inside. All it did was create pressure against the muscles.
“Relax, John,” Aeryn ordered. “Let go. You do not have to fight it any longer.”
A container appeared beneath his head, and at last his major concern was resolved. John abandoned his
battle, giving the rushing warmth in his throat its victory. Gagging, mucus flooding from his nose in response to
the unnatural act, he heaved out the contents of his stomach, three pairs of hands holding him in place as he
arched into the spasms. The purpose of the wadded pillow became clear when the external pressure against
his stomach muscles aided the internal ones to produce the force necessary to eject the surge of fluids.
“Breathe,” someone ordered as the first onslaught ended.
He spent several microts coughing, finally managed to take in a good-sized breath, and then vomited again.
Tears streamed down his face, adding to the wet mess. Ears burning, jaws aching, he retched, coughed,
gagged, and retched again, struggling to find time to service his empty lungs. His stomach took a break,
providing a lull in the storm of misery. They raised his head and wiped his face with a wet cloth, cleaning away
the streams of tears and snot.
“Relax, we have you,” the deep, calm voice told him.
“I sigk,” he told them.
“That is rather apparent,” an amused female voice laughed.
The simple comment hurt for some reason. He thought he was telling them something important and she was
laughing at him. This time the tears were from humiliation.
“Ay’n!” he called.
The strong, familiar fingers rubbed the back of his head, scrubbing at his hair before moving down his skull to
massage the straining tendons and muscles at the base of his skull. “I haven’t left. I’m right beside you. I’m
not leaving, so don’t worry about that.”
It happened again. His stomach convulsed wildly, forcing out the last trickles of bile and the small amounts of
saliva he had swallowed in the preceding few microts. He gasped for air, waiting while his face was wiped clean
by the strangers standing around him.
Several hands worked at the middle of his body, lifting him long enough to work another pillow underneath his
aching stomach. They let him down at an angle so he could curl around the hummock of padding, easing the
strain on the overworked muscles.
“Better?” someone asked.
These had to be the Nice People from before. ‘Delvians’, Aeryn had called them. But he didn’t really know
anything about them, and he waited forlornly as they helped him, hoping that someone he knew would come to
comfort him instead. They wiped away the cold sweat creeping down his neck, then pulled the blankets up to
keep him warm until he was finished being sick. This time when he started crying, it was because they were
being so kind to him.
Another attack hit, bringing up less than before, and it took the rest of his body along for the ride. Starting at
his toes, a wave of fire traveled up his body, every nerve ending insisting that he was burning alive. He cried
out, squirming against the surge of pain, and retched again, straining to eject something from his already empty
“Spit,” someone commanded softly. He panted, found some air and obeyed, the hands still holding his head so
that he did not have to support it himself. They wiped his chin, and the container was taken away. “Done?” the
same voice asked.
“Un unh.” He hurt all over. Every touch was painful, his stomach ached, and he was shivering from the shock
of being sick. And underneath it all was another swelling mass of nausea beginning its slow rise to the surface.
He retched again, his body arching as it tried to eject something that was already gone, tightly clenched fists
aching as he tried to control the internal spasms. Then it was over. The hands guided him back onto the bunk
as he sagged into their grasp, continuing to support his head throughout the transition. He watched dully as
the last strings of spit and mucus slid slowly into the container, feeling miserable and exhausted.
“Done?” the voice asked again.
“Yuh,” was all he could manage.
He obeyed their instructions as they brought him something to rinse out his mouth, spitting into the basin when
they ordered him to, and cooperated the best he could when they wiped his face one more time, cleaning away
the last of the tears, snot and spit. They rolled him into his bunk, and stripped away every bit of sweat-soaked
coverings -- clothes and bedcovers alike. Moving him about gently, doing their best not to set off more of the
ever-present pain, they washed away his sweating reaction to being ill. Warm water soaked the sweat out of
his hair, sponges worked up and down his body wiping away the sticky residue, and they slid him into clean
pants and then threaded his arms and head into a clean top. He was lifted bodily, the surface beneath him
pulled into order, then he was replaced in the bunk and fresh, dry covers were pulled into place.
He lay for ten microts with his face pressed into the pillow, and then, before he knew what was happening or
why, began to cry. The sobs tumbled out of him without control, the recent efforts by the delvians to clean him
up defeated by the latest streams of tears. It seemed like arns since he’d been asleep. Waking up scared and
sick was a dimly remembered event, buried under fatigue, aching muscles, and confusion.
“John.” Aeryn appeared beside him. She knelt down in the habitual position so she was face-to-face with him,
and ran the backs of her fingers slowly across his cheek. “I’m sorry,” she apologized softly.
“F’r what?” he asked, hiccupping. They had placed him on his stomach again, his face half buried in the pillow.
He was warm, almost comfortable although he hurt all over, and the slow, warm drift of Aeryn’s fingers across
his cheek was like a visit from heaven.
“For this happening to you.” She watched him for a few microts. “For knowing that you’re feeling miserable
and not being able to help you.”
“I’s okay now. Really.” She caught a trickle of water where it escaped from his hair and wiped it away with her
thumb. He started to cry again, feeling every bit as miserable as her apology suggested he might be feeling.
“You’re all right, John. You don’t need to cry, you’re fine now.” He knew she was right, but that did not do
anything to stop the flood of tears. “Do you still feel sick?” she asked, finding the hand that was tucked near
his chest and pulling it out from under the covers.
“Nuh.” He looked at his hand inside Aeryn’s and the need to cry disappeared all at once, vanishing as
mysteriously as it had arrived.
She began rubbing his cheek again, her thumb stroking the contours in a slow migration from jaw to temple and
back again. “Do you hurt?”
“John Crichton.” Someone moved into sight alongside Aeryn, dropping down gracefully onto one knee so he
could look at her without strain. “Do you remember me?”
A name drifted out of the tangled mess that passed for his brain. “T’leen,” he answered.
“No, my name is Lorana. I’m going to remove the pain. It will help if you can relax. Can you do that?”
“You blue,” he observed. “T’leen’s blue.”
She laughed, unbothered by his confusion, and got to her feet, moving toward the bottom of the bunk. “I want
you to concentrate on Aeryn Sun, and try to relax. That will reduce the level of discomfort that needs to be
resolved.” A hand burrowed in under the blankets and touched his ankle. He closed his eyes, and promptly
forgot what not-Tahleen had asked him to do.
“Relax,” Aeryn said low and quiet near his ear. She rubbed the side of his head, working intricate patterns into
his wet hair with her fingertips. “Slow breaths, keep your eyes closed, relax.” A woman’s voice start to hum and
a microt later all of the pain flowed out of him, emptying out from his head to his toes as though someone had
pulled a plug at the bottom of his foot. He let out an extended sigh of relief, which only served to bring a portion
of the pain back, and a moment later the unwanted tears returned.
“What’s wrong? Why are you crying?” Aeryn asked.
“I dunno. Can’d geh it t’ s’op.” It was as though all the emotions of the past days were leaking out of him all at
once, unfocussed and unstoppable.
Aeryn’s voice hummed nearby. The individual words were unintelligible. She received a murmured answer
from a deep voice, and then someone lifted his upper body, cradling his shoulders and head as he was raised
off the soft mattress.
Aeryn slid onto the bunk, curling her legs beneath her, and he was lowered so that his head lay in her lap. A
queasy feeling ran through his stomach that had nothing to do with his recent bout of vomiting. They pulled the
insulated covers securely around his shoulders, added one more layer to dispel any chill, and then he was
alone with her except for the person at the foot of the bed.
“Better?” Aeryn asked, her fingers moving in his hair. He nodded, thinking of all the questions that had been in
his head when he had first awakened. Every quandary had disappeared. He was here and Aeryn was here.
That was all that mattered. He would deal with anything else later. Her hand moved down to rub his back, a
slow even movement between his shoulder blades, and it set off a long sigh.
“Try to go to sleep, John. You need the rest.”
* * * * *
Aeryn pulled her sleeve down over the heel of her hand and used it to wipe away more of John tears, blotting at
the creeping streams as he continued to cry. When she first slid under him, he had been shaking, with emotion
it seemed, rather than from cold. The quivering had died away quickly once she had started rubbing his back,
leaving only the uncharacteristic tears. She had to give him time, she reminded herself. Expecting John to
revert immediately to the strong, self-controlled person he had always been was unreasonable. This was
exactly the kind of reaction that Meylan and the others had been trying to tell them about when they had met
the preceding day. It was going to be a long time before John was himself again.
The shaking ended and the traumatized body let out yet another long sigh, and started to relax.
“Feel better?” she asked.
He nodded, then frowned and bit his lower lip. In the past, that habit had always meant he was concentrating
on something to the exclusion of everything else. Aeryn waited to see what would happen, giving him time to
sort out whatever he was working on. Dench by agonizingly slow dench, his hand crawled out from beneath the
blankets, headed toward her own, a demonstration of willpower winning out over injury.
Aeryn met him halfway, placing her hand palm to palm with his and interlacing their fingers, curling his around
her palm for him when they would not do it on their own. “You’re going to be fine,” she whispered, hugging his
shoulders with her free arm. “Just fine.”
Her own alarm was subsiding as gradually as John’s trauma. Meylan had seemed to think that this breakdown
was completely normal. Unwilling to worry her in the event that it did not come to pass, they had not warned her
that they had been anticipating the entire situation including the vomiting. They had been monitoring John for
exactly this sort of reaction. They considered John’s being ill a natural result of the psychological and physical
battering he had suffered over the past several days. But the unstable behavior was so different from John’s
recently restored tenacious personality that she had been overwhelmed from the microt she had increased the
light levels right up until Meylan had pulled her aside so the delvians could tend to him.
A tremor passed through the body resting on her legs, and the memory of everything he had endured so far
banished the last of her concerns. John had earned more moments like this one. He was staring blankly
across the room, eyes closing drowsily from time to time, still crying but not as intensely as before.
“How are you doing?” she asked, stroking his cheek. He turned to look up at her, and another small flood ran
across his face. “You’re not sad, are you? This is relief.” He turned his face away from her, and rubbed his
head against her thigh. He was wiping his tears on her pants, she realized, unable to do it any other way.
“Come here,” she said, trying hard to sound disgusted. “I’ll do that.” He turned his head back with a grin, and
let her wipe away the last of the moisture.
“Love you,” he whispered.
“And I love you,” she answered.
This was one of his new habits, one that had appeared since they had taken him out of the pool. Some part of
him needed to check to make sure she was listening before he asked a question, even when he knew she was
“What?” It was easy to be tolerant of his illogical behaviors. Only one thing mattered at this point. He was
“Lizards catch me?”
“They’re called scarrans. And yes, they captured you.”
Concern about his emotional outburst was replaced by a far stronger fear that something very wrong had just
happened. John had remembered every single detail while he’d been in the quiet dreaming place. The
memories had been carefully and deliberately hidden, but they had been intact. His question suggested that
there had been an unexpected regression. Aeryn looked toward Lorana, worried that there had been some
sort of additional damage. The delvian raised a hand, indicating that she should wait for something.
“Wha’ was I …” John stopped. “Word not dere!” he complained angrily, squirming against her as he vented his
frustration with the greatest physical outburst he could manage at that moment.
“What were you doing?” Aeryn prompted, taking a wild guess at what he’d meant to ask.
“You were providing cover fire for the rest of us so we could get away safely.” Aeryn bent over him, watching
for his reaction as she provided the missing information. “You were right behind us -- no more than three
motras. D’Argo and I turned around to give you cover, and you were gone.”
John stared at their joined hands for several microts, a small furrow appearing between his eyes as he
considered her explanation.
“You don’ get hurt? They don’ catch you any?” His speech was deteriorating, a signal that he was nearing
“No. I got away. They only caught you.”
John nodded twice, suddenly looking irretrievably sleepy. “Tha’s okay den. S’okay as long as you not hurt.”
“John,” Aeryn breathed. She had not anticipated what was concerning him. The normally vibrant, muscular
body lay against her incapable of all but the smallest movements, his recall fragmented, every small sentence
demonstrating the extensive damage that he had suffered, and his first concern was that she had not been
injured. “You’re insane.”
“Nope. Was. Not now.”
He was joking, she realized, shocked beyond the point of offering a witty answer. And she had John Crichton
back for an instant, the irrepressible sense of humor surfacing when she least expected it.
“Word missing,” he complained again.
“Can you get me close to it?” She could not provide the English version, but they had already discovered that
if they could guess what he was trying to say, his microbes would faithfully translate their term into the missing
“Wha’ dey did to me. Ih’s bad thing.”
“Why do you want to know the word for that?” Aeryn had to wait almost ten microts for an answer. John blinked
several times, his body sagging more forcefully against her as he began to succumb to his fatigue.
“Dunno. Jus’ missing.”
“It’s called …” Aeryn’s voice failed her, fading into whispering silence for a moment. “It’s called ‘torture’, John.
And you’re right. It’s a bad thing.”
For a moment it was as if she had been the one strapped to that gleaming metal table, helpless to do anything
but scream out her agony as the surges of energy destroyed her one pulse at a time. The multi-person
Meeting had been the only way to force John out of his quiet dreaming place, but it had left the experience
indelibly imprinted on the minds of everyone involved, delvians included. All ten of the participants knew
precisely what John had endured. The word ‘torture’ barely began to describe it.
If she closed her eyes, she could feel it all: the cold smoothness of the table beneath her shoulders, warming
gradually as she lay on it; the pinching grasp of the straps that forced her joints into an unnatural position
against the slab; the heat of the scarrans as they leaned over her, preparing another wave of unbearable
sensations; and worst of all, the small, sticky adhesions where the electrodes were attached, promising that
there was more to come than she could bear.
It was her turn to shudder, the memories more real than most of her own. Aeryn hugged John again,
concentrating on the breadth of his shoulders and the weight of his chest on her legs to banish the other set of
recalled tactile sensations.
“You survived it. I don’t know how you managed to hang on, but you did.”
John nodded several times, each small movement taking longer to complete.
“Go to sleep,” she urged, certain that John was at the limits of his small supply of stamina. “It’s been a long day
She rubbed his chest and arm through the blankets as she watched the blue eyes disappear behind drooping
lids. He was fighting it, struggling to keep his eyes open so he could watch her. She bent down over him,
bringing her head closer to his as she tugged the blankets up around his chin, enveloping his head and
shoulders in a whole body embrace.
“I love you, John,” her quiet words drifted the short distance to him. She rubbed his chest again, then moved
down to rub his stomach. “You don’t need to think about these things tonight. Get some rest.”
The eyes closed, his body settling against her, convincing her that he was sleeping at last, but he hummed in
the back of his throat and smiled slightly, letting her know he was still awake.
“Feel good?” she asked, continuing to rub his stomach. He nodded against her legs, another long hum of
satisfaction vibrating through both of them. She smoothed the damp hair back from his forehead with her free
hand, rolled his head upward and kissed him lightly on the forehead.
“Mizz’d me,” he complained with a smile, eyes still closed.
“You have just been sick. My aim was perfect.” Aeryn continued the slow circular motions against his stomach
and chest, watching carefully as he looked up at her one more time, his eyes almost completely unfocused as
he lost the battle to stay awake. “Sleep, John,” she whispered, trying to coax him into letting go. “I’ll be here,
go to sleep.” A quiet wandering hum rumbled for an instant in his chest, and then he was finally gone.
Only then, when Aeryn was absolutely certain that John was asleep, did she turn to look at Lorana. The priest
was sitting at the foot of the bed with her hand resting on Crichton’s ankle despite the fact that she had stopped
chanting long before he had fallen asleep. She helped Aeryn slide out from under the sleeping human.
“He loves you very much,” Lorana said.
“More than I ever suspected.” Aeryn looked at the lax features one more time, and then crossed the short
distance to her own bunk. “Will he recover completely? Will he make it all the way back?”
“I am more convinced of it than ever before.” Lorana touched Aeryn lightly on the arm and pointed across the
room. John opened one eye to watch Aeryn for a microt, blinked drowsily several times, and then went back to
sleep. “It may be a struggle, but I believe he will not give up until he is fully recovered.”
* * * * *
Aeryn dropped her legs over the side of the bunk and slid carefully to the floor. Every muscle in her body was
stiff, which meant that she had slept much longer than normal, and the light in the room was set low so she had
no idea what time of day or night it was. For all she knew, she could have been sleeping for several arns or
several days. Stretching her upper body, arms, and shoulders in all possible directions, striving to loosen some
of the locked muscles, Aeryn looked across the room to see if John was awake. The only portion of his body in
sight was his hair, leading her to assume that he had his face buried in the pillow, something she had seen him
do occasionally on board Moya. It was not until she walked over to check on him that she discovered she had
been looking at the back of his head. Quiet rumbling snores made their way from the pillow, testifying that he
was still asleep, and she crossed the final few denches with every bit of stealth that her training provided,
making sure she did not disturb him.
In this peaceful moment, he almost looked uninjured. With random tufts of hair standing on end, his mouth
gaping slightly to let the airy grumbles of his snoring escape, John looked no different from any of the other
times she had spied on him while he was sleeping. The clues were there if she chose to search for them. His
jaw hung a micro-dench too slackly, missing some of the firmness that gave his face strength and character; a
tiny crawl of spittle glistened along his lip, unnoticed by the mind that struggled simply to breathe and maintain
a small semblance of order; and his hand, where it lay tucked near his chin, was curled into an awkward fist,
fingers wrapped around the thumb instead of the other way around. It was John, but pieces were missing.
“Don’t you quit on me, John Crichton,” she whispered. “You fight until you’re all the way back.” Aeryn watched
the slow rise and fall of four more breaths, using the time to admit that she would love him no matter how
complete or incomplete his recovery. With or without his entire store of memories, this was John Crichton and
her feelings were not going to change. She tugged the blankets around his neck where they had started to
gap, and left him so he could get some more rest.
She was certain that their hosts must have had him out of bed again in the middle of the night. John was
incapable of rolling over on his own, and they would not have disturbed his sleep for something as trivial as a
simple position change. Something must have happened that required moving John. It also meant that her
own level of exhaustion must be far greater than she had estimated if they had been able to get him out of the
room and back in without waking her. Aeryn finished dressing -- a quicker process when it did not require
socks, boots, or strapping on a pulse pistol -- and checked on John one more time. He was still sleeping
Aeryn folded her arms and tucked her hand under her armpits to keep from touching him, no different from
what she had done dozens of times over the interminable twelve days that it had taken to get to this sanctuary.
The relief that it was to keep from waking him, rather than to avoid causing him untold agony, was enough to
make her lightheaded.
Those endless arns of uncertainty seemed like a bad dream now, something that had been experienced by
someone else. A portion of her mind insisted that Aeryn Sun had not stood over an empty shell that muttered
strings of unintelligible syllables flooding from a damaged brain; Officer Sun had not spent twelve impossibly
long solar days wandering from Command to Pilot’s Den to the infirmary, eating only enough to keep herself
alive because she was sick every time she considered that John Crichton might be injured beyond recovery.
That person was not her.
John took a deeper breath, muttered “Nar’nyn” on a sigh, and was still again. She had come to recognize the
sleep-slurred sound as her name. He spoke to her constantly in his sleep, rarely offering anything more than
the unintelligible version of her name. It was enough to tell her that he was thinking of her all the time, showing
the same single-minded devotion that had allowed him to survive what the scarrans had done to him.
The desire to touch him grew into a physical need. Aeryn knelt down alongside the bunk, rested her cheek on
the edge of the mattress and cautiously ran her fingers along the humped contours of where his body lay
beneath the covers, barely bringing any pressure to bear. “Sleep,” she mouthed to him. “Heal. Get well.”
Forty microts of delicate touches was enough to restore her control. She fingered the tousled brown hair,
traced the curve where the broad shoulders lay without the capacity for movement, and finally laid a kiss
against the back of his head, feeling the first return of the furnace-like body heat that John normally put out.
The immobility resulting from the damage to his nervous system had so reduced his metabolism that Daaren
and the delvians were having trouble keeping him warm. On more than one occasion, they had taken him from
his bunk in the middle of the night and immersed him in the pool for no other reason than to warm him.
“Nar’nyn?” John called more loudly just as she reached the door. Aeryn froze, waiting to see if this was another
of his dream-generated calls or if he was awake. “Gorfla neg fik,” he added to the conversation, coming close
to making her laugh, and then he was quiet again.
She shook her head, trying to memorize the syllables so she could tease him about it some day when he was
capable of a comeback, and then left the room. Her first step into the corridor turned into a faltering stumble as
she almost bumped into Daaren. Aeryn cursed mentally, disgusted that she could be taken off guard like that
so easily. It meant that she was not only tired, she was distracted as well.
He was apologizing before she could recover. “Aeryn Sun, I did not mean to startle you. How are you feeling?
Well rested, I hope.”
“I’m fine, thank you. How late is it? How long have I been sleeping?” She stretched her neck as she spoke,
listened to the soft crackle of loosening vertebrae, and revised her assessment of how long she had been
asleep by several arns.
“About fourteen arns.”
“Are you ill?” Daaren inquired quickly, placing a hand on her elbow.
“No. I’m … I’m fine.” There was no way to describe to Daaren what she had experienced when he had said the
word ‘fourteen’. Nausea, fear, remembered agony, and worst of all, the overwhelming despair that she would
not live long enough to say goodbye to someone she loved. John had hidden the indescribable horror of Kelvo
Fourteen from the rest of them for a good reason. Just thinking about the words ‘Kelvo Fourteen’ was enough
to dredge up the memories. But she was concerned now. If the word fourteen had that much of an effect on
her, there was no telling what it would do to John. She wondered if hearing it in a language other than Scarran
would lessen the impact.
Daaren continued to watch her with concern. “I really am fine,” she protested, then tried to redirect his focus.
“How is John? You moved him last night. Was there another problem?”
“He was experiencing some random muscle contractions while he slept. He was given some therapy to resolve
the effects. He is progressing slightly better than we expected.”
“Better,” Aeryn repeated in shock. John’s night had consisted of vomiting, tears, muscle cramps, and whatever
the delvians had done to help him through the painful contractions. It was doubtful that he’d had more than
four or five arns of unbroken sleep over the past fourteen arns. “You expected him to be worse off than this?”
“Problems are to be expected. He has been through a great deal.”
Aeryn looked at him intently, checking to see if he was making some kind of joke. John had been through a
great deal more than a great deal.
Once again she was mentally transported back to the room with the metal table, this time to experience the
sharp, burning pain as her ligaments tore, joints grinding and separating as she strained against the straps, the
discomfort nearly lost behind the all-encompassing agony. Muscles bunched, cramped, seized, and eventually
tore as the frenzied attempts to escape continued, battering against strictures that would never give way.
“Would you like to get something to eat?”
Daaren was looking at her peculiarly. Aeryn thought for a microt, replaying the question in her mind, and
realized that he had asked the question twice.
“Yes,” she began, meaning to ask if it was time for First Meal, or Midday Meal. Something began to bother her,
starting as a peculiar itching at the base of her skull and developing into a suspicion rather than any sort of
coherent thought. Puzzled, she turned and headed back to the room where John was sleeping, remembering
Daaren at the last moment. “I think … I think maybe you should come with me,” she told him, beckoning for him
“John?” she called. Somehow she knew that she did not need to be quiet.
“Ar’nyn,” he croaked, barely managing the small greeting. “Hur’s.” His entire body shook, racked by a massive
Daaren nudged her out of the way, discarding manners in favor of getting to John quickly, and flipped the
covers back in one fast motion. John was curled into a tight ball, mimicking the position he had maintained for
so many days in the pool. This was not a pursuit of comfort or security, however. Before the priest could touch
him, another spasm shook John and his arms hitched convulsively, clamping in close to his chest.
“Do not be alarmed. This is to be expected at first,” Daaren explained as he rolled John onto his back. “The
muscles are receiving random signals from the restored neurons and they’re responding with uncontrolled
contractions. It will pass.”
Aeryn moved to the head of the bunk, standing impotently as wave after wave of spasms hammered the
helpless body. Daaren went about his work calmly, as though none of what was happening was serious.
John’s right leg was pulled out straight, generating a muffled yowl of pain, and massaged until it stayed in
place. The process was repeated on the left leg, by which time his right had contracted again.
“What should I do?” Aeryn asked.
“Help will be here shortly. Although this is admittedly painful, it is not debilitating.” Daaren pulled John’s right
leg out for the fourth time, and directed his next statement toward the suffering human. “Breathe slowly, John
Crichton. Relax. We will resolve this shortly.” The left leg was drawn out, barely straightening by the time
John’s right knee had pulled in again.
“Ar’nyn?” he called in his mangled speech, looking up at her.
“Slow breaths. Not much longer, John. They’ll make it better.”
He nodded several times, bit his lip, and managed not to cry out when Daaren moved up the bed and pulled
one of his arms out for the first time. “Hur’s,” he complained again between the efforts to release his arms.
“I know.” There was nothing more to say. She could not assure him that it would not happen again, could not
tell him when it would be over, and had no idea how they were going to resolve the problem.
“Loogk.” John drew her attention away from the sense of helplessness that was urging her to lash out
physically. “Toes goes.”
He was right. In the depth of discomfort, when he had every right to be fixated on Daaren’s painful attempts to
treat his malfunctioning body, and with so much of his personality as inaccessible as his memories, John had
found a positive side to his dilemma. He let out a quiet cry as one of his heels skittered six denches across the
mattress, drawn inexorably toward his buttocks by the contracting muscles. His foot jerked to a stop, and a
microt later the toes flexed up and then down, voluntary movement found in the midst of erroneous signals from
his nervous system. Aeryn smiled, all of her anxiety relieved by the small bit of optimism, and leaned down to
kiss him. This was the John Crichton she had been waiting for -- the one who was full of hope and did not know
how to give up.
“Nice.” John grunted as another wave of spasms hit him. “More?”
“Make more toes goes, and you’ll get another.”
His attempt at an answer was interrupted by the arrival of Lorana and several acolytes. They entered the room
moving quickly but without any unseemly haste, managing to look relaxed even as they hurried to help Daaren.
With five of them working simultaneously, they managed to get him lying flat. John was quickly wrapped in
several blankets, lifted, and carried toward the door.
“You gor … geous,” he said to Aeryn as they moved past her.
“And you are the love of my life,” she replied. The look in his eyes was more reward than she ever could have
hoped to receive. Two microts later, he was out of sight, headed for wherever they were going to treat the
“How will you get it to stop?” she asked Lorana. The delvian was waiting by her side as though she had
anticipated the question.
“We will take away some of the discomfort, which will allow him to relax. That should reduce the flow of neural
signals to the point that he experiences some relief. There is nothing we can do about the underlying cause,
so we will attempt to treat the symptoms. Hot water and massage should relieve the contractions long enough
for him to get back to sleep. Rest will give his body time to heal.” Lorana gave Aeryn one of the calm, patient
smiles that Zhaan used to bestow on someone to let them know that she understood their concerns.
Aeryn looked into the corridor in the direction where John had been taken, slowly picking at a single loose
thread on her tunic. “I want him to be comfortable.”
“You want him back the way he was before,” the delvian suggested, her tone implying that Aeryn might be
denying her own feelings.
“I do not care about that. There’s enough of him there already for me to live with the rest of my life. I saw
what --” Aeryn gestured toward her head, searching for the right words to express what they had experienced
in the final Meeting that had brought John out of his quiet dreaming place. “He deserves to be comfortable. He
deserves to be happy.”
“He will be comfortable very soon. And he already is happy. He is happy to be with you, Aeryn Sun.”
“That’s not --”
“I have felt it,” Lorana insisted, interrupting Aeryn’s protest. “Most of his feelings are kept securely hidden from
everyone but you and your crewmates, but of this I am quite sure. It does not require that you are in the room,
or nearby. As long as he knows that you are a part of his life, he is happy. The images are exceptionally
clear. It is the single element that he requires in order to be happy.”
Aeryn took three stumbling steps to the bunk where she had been sleeping, and boosted herself up to sit on
the edge, feeling too weak to continue standing.
“You were not aware of this?” Lorana asked.
“I wasn’t sure. I thought so, but I wasn’t positive. I hurt him so badly a short time ago.”
“But surely, you had to know. Meylan revealed to the rest of us that John Crichton had retained all memories of
you when everything else in his mind had been randomized by the torture. This must have told you how
important you were to him.”
Aeryn nodded slowly, careful not to upset her balance. She was hot and shivering at the same time, sweating
and yet chilled. Her stomach churned, feeling loose and uncontrolled, and there was a quite buzzing in her
ears and her fingertips, divorcing her from her environment. She had trouble convincing her mouth to form
“I know I’m important to him. That’s not the same thing as making him happy when I’m around. There were
some … very bad times.”
Lorana gave her another of the serene smiles. “Then be assured. There is no doubt in any of our minds, or in
his.” The priest tilted her head to one side, considering something. After several microts of the mysterious
contemplation, she reported, “Daaren says that John Crichton is somewhat anxious. It is interfering with the
treatment. You have not had an opportunity to eat, but we --”
“Yes,” Aeryn replied before the delvian could complete her sentence. She slid off the bunk and headed for the
door. “Show me where.”
* * * * *
An arn later she was sitting on one end of a padded table, John’s head propped on a pillow in her lap as a team
of delvians resumed the therapeutic massage that would ease the cramps.
“Better?” she asked, looking down into his eyes.
“Much bedder,” he agreed, smiling up at her in return.
When she had arrived, John had been more than anxious; he had actually been fighting Daaren and his
apprentices. In the short span of time since he had been carried from his bed, he had forgotten why they had
him back in the pool room, and why they wanted to undress him and put him in the warm water. His emotional
distress and his futile attempts to push the delvians away had increased the number of signals flowing through
the damaged junctions of his nervous system, and he had gone into convulsions just as she arrived. Linked in
Unity to increase their strength, Lorana and Daaren had bullied their way into John’s mind and put an artificial
damper on his emotions, forcing him to calm down. Microts later, the convulsions stopped, leaving only the
muscle spasms to be resolved.
“Slow breaths,” she said as he blinked sleepily at her. Aeryn ran the back of a knuckle across his cheek,
continuing the slow petting that was keeping him calm.
“Gwa shay duh ga mey?” he asked.
Aeryn repressed a strong desire to laugh, settling for a smile that she hoped was small enough that it would not
upset him. On one level, his damaged speech was heartbreaking; on another, the clipped, babbling syllables
sounded funny enough that it was often difficult not to be amused when one of his sentences went completely
“That wasn’t anything that my microbes could translate, John. Slow down and try it again.” A frown threatened,
the crease above his eyebrows giving it away before he could rearrange the rest of his features. “Don’t get
mad. Just try it again.”
“Wha’ dey do to me?” he produced one laborious sound at a time.
Aeryn watched for several microts as the blue-hued hands worked up and down the oil-slick surfaces of his
body. Despite the extended length of time he had spent lying in Moya’s infirmary and then floating in the pool,
his muscles were well-toned and resilient, offering a significant degree of resistance against the firm pressure
being applied. It was the spastic battles his body had been fighting that had kept him physically fit; the visible
symptoms of his injuries having the unexpected benefit of providing movement and exercise.
Daaren was working his way across John’s midsection, trying to relieve some of the rippling seizures that were
visibly knotting his abdominal muscles. His apprentices were tending to John’s arms and legs, taking away the
discomfort at the same time that they soothed the twitching fibers. Crichton’s entire body dripped with the
lubricant they were using, gleaming in the soft lights of the chamber.
“Despite all of your efforts to make it difficult, they are attempting to get your muscles to relax,” she said. “If you
could concentrate on that goal for a few microts, you’d feel better.”
John laughed. Aeryn sat up straighter at the bubbling giggle, trying to remember if she had heard him laugh
since they had brought him out of his quiet dreaming place. There had been lots of smiles and a few quiet
snickers, but no laughs until this moment. Daaren paused long enough to pour some more oil across John’s
stomach, glanced down to make sure the patient was not watching, and then nodded at Aeryn, indicating that
the laughter was aiding their efforts.
Aeryn bent over John, leaning in close to the cheerful eyes, and put her forehead against his, wanting nothing
more than to make physical contact. She got much more. A flood of emotions washed over her, dissociated
images rippling by faster than she could comprehend, and under it all was the emotion that Lorana had
assured her was there. He was happy. In that instant, she knew that he hurt intensely, that he was rarely free
of pain, that he was exhausted most of the time, confused, worried by his inability to form rational thoughts, and
he did not care about any of it because she was there.
“I know this,” he whispered. “We do dis a’fore.”
Aeryn pulled away. The flood of stolen thoughts stopped. “You remember everything about me,” she
confirmed, stroking the bottom of his jaw. “You should have saved a little of yourself, you lunatic.” And then,
before the worried look in his eyes could progress to full-blown anxiety, she kissed him and pulled his head
closer to her stomach, hugging as much of him as she could while the team continued their efforts. “Relax,”
she began urging him again. “Everything is going to be fine. Relax.”
“Ever’think go be fine,” he repeated, practicing the words. It was becoming a habit. He was constantly
mimicking everyone around him, trying out words in an effort to increase his vocabulary. “Ever’think is goin’ be
fine. Go-ink. Goink.” He grinned up at her. “Goink? I think I make new word.”
“It’s a nice word. What does it mean?”
Her question triggered another rolling laugh, and they continued that way for two more arns, until he was cramp-
free, bathed to remove the layers of oil, and returned to the warmth and comfort of his bed where he could
continue the healing.
* * * * *
Aeryn boosted herself out of the water to sit at the side of the pool, resting for a few microts while she indulged
herself by watching John from a distance. He was trying to stand and laugh at the same time, supported by
D’Argo but pretending to lean on Rygel, who was floating alongside him. Any exercise John was getting was
being done in the pool, now filled with normal water. The buoyancy relieved his legs of most of his weight while
his limbs relearned the motions they were supposed to perform. John glanced down at the hynerian beside
him, looked at Aeryn, and then deliberately pushed Rygel under water, feigning surprise when he sank. Rygel
came up sputtering, but his earbrows were at full height and he wasn’t making any complaints about his
mistreatment as he paddled way from his laughing tormentor.
The delvians had included them in his rehabilitation right from the beginning, insisting that they take part in the
slow process of teaching his brain how to control his body again. This was far more difficult that it was for a
child. There was too much mass for him to contend with and his healing nervous system was resisting the new
signals. Only a fraction of the retraining would take place on the New Moon of Delvia. The remainder would by
necessity take place aboard Moya, and they needed to know the techniques that would help John recover most
Daaren and his team continued to check John several times a day interspersed with the exercises, ensuring
that everything possible was repaired. Constant adjustments were needed as his body continued to make
small, complex repairs on its own, restoring intricacies that even the delvians could not heal from the outside.
The worst of the cramps and seizures had disappeared within two or three solar days, revealing the extent of
the smaller twitches and tics that were equally uncomfortable. There was only so much the priests could do to
resolve the erroneous signals. It was up to John’s body to complete the final stage of the repairs on its own.
The laughing stopped as Crichton struggled to full height, preparing for another attempt to hold the stance
when D’Argo eased his grasp.
“Ready?” the dripping luxan asked.
“Nuh. Right knee no good,” John reported.
Chiana ducked in under D’Argo’s grasp long enough to straightened the bent joint.
“Deep breath,” D’Argo coached, easing his grip.
John inhaled and scowled down at his legs.
“Head up!” Aeryn yelled at him. Looking down pitched him forward every time.
“Reh-dy,” he announced, and D’Argo let go.
Aeryn thought there might have been a split-microt of a delay before he collapsed this time, but it also could
have been her imagination. Despite three days worth of round the clock sessions dedicated entirely to the task
of standing up, he still could not support even a portion of his weight. They had a long road ahead of them,
and if they ran into trouble, as they usually did, John’s condition would instantaneously become a liability.
Aeryn looked at the latent strength of his arms and torso, permitting herself to enjoy the sight of the matting of
hair across his chest dripping with water from his repeated dunkings. His stomach muscles showed clearly as
he tensed them in preparation for another attempt. His hands were clenched into fists, a carry-over from the
amount of effort he was putting into the rest of his muscles, but at least he could open and close his fingers
now. His face carried a shadow of heavy stubble. He had claimed that he had wanted to grow a beard, but she
knew he was concerned about not being able to remove the daily growth on his own. He had not even
understood the concept at first, and there had been a long conversation with D’Argo before the memory
emerged to create the newest dilemma.
John looked up at her and grinned again, watching her watching him. He had progressed to the point where he
could raise his head for brief periods, but even those muscles remained unreliable. One moment he could lift
his head; the next moment no amount of effort could goad them into functioning. He looked down at his
submerged feet, raised his head as he was supposed to, and gave D’Argo a small nod. The brawny arms
released him, easing away carefully so as not to upset his balance, and in a feat that resembled defiance of
gravity, John was still upright.
“You’re up!” she yelled, elated. Two microts later he disappeared from sight in a geyser of water. Aeryn slid
into the pool, surging through the waist deep water to help the others pull him up. “You did it!” she greeted him
as he came up sputtering.
Everyone was congratulating him, their voices echoing off the dome high overhead. She helped D’Argo hoist
him up and wiped the water out of his eyes for him. It was such a small thing, a tiny success. Grief lurked
behind the triumph, something that happened whenever she watched him fight to regain some small fragment
of control over his life.
The answer to her momentary depression was the same every time. All she had to do was recall the sense of
hopelessness that had ruled her when they had burst into the scarran stronghold and she had seen him lying
on that spattered table. They had taken a huge gamble by bringing him here, and it had paid off in full.
“Noh-der?” John asked as his friends quieted down.
“You’ve been at this for almost two arns, John,” D’Argo said from behind him. “You need to rest. I need to
rest.” When he felt the chest in his grasp start to fill with air for a protest, D’Argo cut him off. “Get used to it
now. It’s going to take …”
“Time and patience!” Everyone yelled it together.
John shook his head at the chorus, and then nodded. He gave in so quickly, Aeryn suspected that he was
avoiding a confession that he was too tired to continue.
John looked down at the water next to him, frowned with concentration, and then Aeryn jumped as he grabbed
her hand. “Yay,” he said quietly. “Look at I got.” It was another first. A deliberate movement and a firm, if
somewhat awkward grasp.
“What are you going to do with it now that you have it?” she asked calmly.
He just laughed, using the wild bubbling laugh that appeared whenever he found something inexplicably funny.
This was the new John, the one they all enjoyed but hoped was temporary. Small things would suddenly delight
him, but when asked, he often could not explain the source of his humor. He was easily amused, quick to
anger, subject to fits of depression; his moods swooping and diving as erratically as the trigapods he enjoyed
watching for arns on end.
The others seemed to understand it better than she did. They remembered a childhood of incandescent
moments and emotions. They had the memories of bright flashing experiences interspersed with glum
depression at the unfairness of life. Life lessons, D’Argo had called it. Her childhood had been regimented
and ordered, without the explosions of uncontrolled feelings. She watched and tried to learn fast, hoping that
her capacity to adjust would meet his changing personality before the promised frustration arrived.
Hope, tenacity, humor.
Aeryn gazed at the sturdy body, damp hair, thick stubble, and could barely breathe for the relief that he was
going to recover. This one had fought tenaciously to come back to her, had survived when he was not
supposed to live, and had clawed his way back to this world with their encouragement. This one was different
from the one who had given his life in exchange for millions of others, but had left her alone.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *