Child Of The Night - Chapter 12

“Nuh!  Get nee hilough … frell!”  

“Try it again,” D’Argo said.  “Take your time.  Don’t rush.”  

“Go … see … Pi’ot … firs’,” came the revised attempt, one laborious effort at a time.

D’Argo was standing in a junction of two corridors with John hanging over his shoulders.  When they had
landed the transport pod in the hangar, he had been about to pick the drowsy human up in his arms as usual
when John had begun objecting to the maximum degree he was capable of producing.  The others had
bounded down the steps, glad to be back on board the leviathan, leaving the two men behind to argue for as
long as they liked.

“Hate da’ way, D.  Feel like … liddle kid.”  

John had struggled to be emphatic, giving off unmistakable signs that he knew his helplessness was destroying
any semblance of strength faster than he could produce it.  His body was transmitting another tale at the same
time, however.  Glee.  D’Argo watched and listened, and decided that John’s distaste at being carried in
someone’s arms like a child was being overridden by the excitement that he had rediscovered a tiny fragment
of his life.  

“Fling me over your shoulders,” he had said, and then had beamed up at D’Argo because he had gotten an
entire sentence out without mangling a word.  

It had taken three attempts before they found a position that allowed John to breathe comfortably, and now
their progress was stalled by yet another disagreement.  The squabble was generating a secretive smile of
delight from D’Argo, who was rejoicing that his friend was bickering with him before he had relearned how to
walk.  He shook his head and took two steps away from the Den, deliberately provoking Crichton because he
was enjoying the argument.

“No!”  John’s next statement descended into complete chaos, communication short-circuited by frustration.  

D’Argo realized he had pushed his friend too far.  He relented long enough to explain why he felt that his
course was the better one.  “John, you need to eat and get some rest.  This way first.”  He pointed toward the
Center Chamber for emphasis as well as to provide Crichton with a nudge to his memory.  

“No!  Too … too …”  John went silent while he searched for a missing word.  “Big number of days,” he
improvised, “since see Pilot.  Go dere!”  

“Too many days?” D’Argo said, prompting him.  

“Yes.  Too many.  Go see Pi’ot!”  John made a vague gesture that encompassed all four of the corridors
leading away from where they were standing, suggesting that he wanted to gesticulate toward where the pilot
was located and did not know which way to point.  “Not long, jus’ hi.”  

“I think I’m right.”  D’Argo turned in the direction of the Center Chamber.  The first tones of exhaustion had
reentered Crichton’s voice, convincing him that he should get the recovering invalid back to his quarters as
soon as possible.  

“Da … Da … D’Argo.”  

He stopped walking, motion arrested by John’s laborious effort to struggle through his name, a battle to get
past the first syllable that was all too reminiscent of another time that his friend had struggled to speak.   

“Puh down for mi’rot?  P’ease?”  John banged a fist gently against his hip, trying to put more emphasis into his
halting words.    

D’Argo lowered him to sit against the wall, admitting only to himself that carrying John this way was easier in that
respect also.  He straightened John’s legs and tilted his head so it rested against the wall.  “What’s wrong,
John?  Is it your breathing?”  

“Nuh.”  Crichton wagged his head from side to side.  “Breath ‘kay.  Don’t able to see Pi’ot in head.”

“You don’t remember him,” D’Argo said, rephrasing the sentence.  

“Re … Say word ‘gain?”  It was a frequent request.  Longer words challenged John’s ability to retain the
translated version long enough for to reproduce the sounds in English.   

“Remember,” he repeated slowly in Luxan.  The translator microbes would have to do the rest.  

John had already learned the word several times, and in each case had forgotten it within the space of a few
microts.  Giving him the words did not seem to work as well as forcing him to dig them out of his faulty memory.  
They were beginning to suspect that it had something to do with the fact that he was hearing one version
through his ears, and a different version from his translator microbes.  Short words or fragments he could
retain.  Longer ones never lasted more than a few arns.

John considered D’Argo’s contribution for several microts, then continued his plea without trying the new word.  
“Pi’ot.  Want go see.  See him den know him.”  John worked at breathing for a few moments.  “Kay?”  Crichton
watched D’Argo intently.  

“Very well, John.”  D’Argo started to pick up one of Crichton’s arms, the first step in slinging what was basically
a helpless body over his shoulder.  

“Wait.”  John sat very still for several microts, not even looking around as he concentrated on getting more air
into his lungs.  “Why are you … so sad?”  He made the effort to use all the words, avoiding even his usual short
cuts.  

D’Argo sat back on his heels, gazing at the slumped figure before him as he debated how to answer the
question.  Despite their bickering microts earlier, this person was so far from the brawling, confident human he
had come to respect and love that it felt as though both of his hearts would stop simultaneously when he had to
watch him struggle to talk or to simply breathe.

He was reminded of the mentally crippled man who had twice begged for death to cease the torture caused by
the neural chip and the actions of the clone.  The man sitting in front of him was mentally balanced and
recovering rapidly, but the physical damage was no less significant.  He wanted his friend back again, healthy
and ready for trouble.  

“I was thinking about a friend I used to know.  Let’s go see Pilot.  I will introduce you to him.”  The grin of
unadulterated delight that he received in response to his change of heart was almost identical to Jothee’s
bursts of ecstatic happiness over the simplest things in life.  He hauled John off the floor and slung him over his
shoulders.  

“Jess like a sakmar of taters,” Crichton said, laughing into his side.  

D’Argo had already noticed how little it took to amuse John.  His humor was infectious no matter how
heartbreaking.  “Whatever that is, John,” he said, deliberately seeking another response from his passenger.  
One of John’s hands fumbled at his waist for a few moments.  Several fingers slowly wrapped themselves
around his belt as Crichton did his best to help hold himself in place as they headed quickly through the tiers
toward Pilot’s chamber.    

“D, wha’s a sakmar?”  John watched the pattern of the floor flow by beneath them, the golden panels flashing
into a blur that resembled shining scales.  Scales.  He shuddered and was swamped by a sudden,
unexplainable flood of fear.  He fought the emotion, reminding himself that D’Argo had promised to keep him
safe.    

“A measure of weight.  You’re about a hundredth of a sakmar, although you feel like you’ve gained a sakmar or
two.”  D’Argo felt a heavy tremor run through John, affecting his entire body.  “Are you all right?  Do I need to
stop, John?”    

“No, I’n fine.”  

The tone worked almost too hard to sound confident; an undertone of concern or fear in the brief phrase
leached through despite Crichton’s effort to hide it.  D’Argo kept moving toward the Den, debating whether to
set John down a second time so he could see what was going on.  His deliberations were cut short by a
cheerier comment.  

“Hey, D?  Wha’s taters?”  

                                                                              * * * * *

D’Argo crossed the span to Pilot’s center island and then turned around to give John his first look at Moya’s
partner.  “Whoa, lobster!” was muttered quietly from somewhere near his waist, and he made a mental note to
ask John later to explain about ‘lobster’.  “Hi, Pi’ot!” came next, louder and more cheerfully.  But John had
managed to get his second hand latched on to D’Argo’s arm, and his grip tightened spasmodically as the pair
approached Pilot’s consoles, transmitting something far less assured through the contact.  

“Pilot, you have a visitor.”  

D’Argo turned around to ease Crichton down onto Pilot’s consoles.  “John, is it all right if Pilot steadies you for a
microt while I get behind you?”  

When he did not get a response, he craned his neck to see what John was doing.  Crichton’s full attention was
focused on his hand, which was still firmly latched onto D’Argo’s sleeve.  He was biting his lip in concentration
and glaring furiously at the curled fingers.  

“Lehgo … f’elling bas’ards!”  His fist ignored the command, prompting a low-pitched growl of frustration.  “Wai’
mi’rot.  Is s’uck,” he said to D’Argo, enunciation suffering from his fixation on the frozen hand.  There was
another angry noise from the inverted figure, but the hand was still fastened securely around his arm.  D’Argo
eased a single finger under each of John’s, providing the additional pressure necessary to get the grip to
release one finger at a time but allowing John to do most of the work.  

“Bas’ards,” John growled a second time.  

“I’m going to put you down next to Pilot now,” D’Argo warned him once the hand had swung free.  “He’s going to
steady you until I can get you turned around.”  

There was a brief hesitation preceding the confident response, “Tha’s fine.”  When D’Argo straightened up,
John was looking nervously at the arms that were holding him upright.  

“It is good to see you again, Commander Crichton.”  Pilot had enveloped him with two of his arms while he used
a third to steady his head.  “I have missed our conversations.”  Pilot surveyed the uncertain smile and anxious
expression, and added, “I have missed you.”

D’Argo swung John around so his legs dropped inside the enclosure and his body was facing Pilot completely.  
He waited, hovering, until he was sure that Pilot had John supported securely, and then backed away, watching
the conflicting emotions flicker across Crichton’s face.  He was obviously battling a lack of memory while trying
to be friendly with a very large creature.  Pilot shifted one claw to rest on his leg, and then John surprised
D’Argo by managing to lift one hand high enough to place it on top of the armored appendage.  He was serious
for several long moments as he ran his fingers across the dark mottled claw several times, then looked up at
the serious face and eyed the wide cranial shell and the wide, sympathetic eyes.  

“Miss you too, Pi’ot.  Still miss you.”  

Pilot looked at D’Argo and then back at Crichton.  “You do not remember us.  I am sorry, Crichton.”

John shook his head.  “I one who sorry.  I think Moya a little, but mos’ is miss.”  His chin dropped to his chest for
a moment.  After several microts there, it climbed back up in agonizing slow stages so he was looking into Pilot’s
eyes again.  D’Argo watched the battle, comparing it to the other times he had watched John wage this
particular war, and trying to judge how much longer Crichton could hold out before his body shut down despite
his best efforts.  He concluded that it was time to leave.  

Before he could move forward or suggest that it was time to go, Pilot slowly lowered his head until the front
edge of his shell touched Crichton’s forehead.  “I am sure you will remember us eventually, Crichton.  Perhaps
tomorrow Moya and I can show you some images that will help you remember us.”  He straightened up and
looked at the human eye to eye.  

John’s face lightened and he broke into a large grin.  “Sid here and say bye one time?”  When he receive a
ponderous nod he reverted to the more serious expression.  “We were sad then, but I know this.”  He let his
head tilt back to look at D’Argo, hanging almost upside down in Pilot’s embrace.  “I have Pi’ot in my head!  We
go lunch now.”  He lurched forward and looked at the big creature who was holding him upright.  “I gonn’ know
you now, Pi’ot.  Ih’ll get bedder.”

                                                                              * * * * *

“Dis sucks.”  John tried to remain sitting upright only to flop back the microt Aeryn let go of him.  “One more
time?” he asked.  She patiently boosted him upright and waited while he arranged his hands so they were
braced on his thighs.  She eased him back until she felt him find his balance point, then slowly released him.  If
there was any delay between letting go and the loss of control, she couldn’t detect it.  He hit his bunk with a
thump.  “Frell.”  

“It’s only your second day, John.  Give yourself a chance.”  Aeryn unlaced his boots, and pulled his footwear
and socks free with an economy of movement.  His pants followed rapidly and then she swung his legs onto the
bed.  He submitted patiently while she tugged him into a position lying on his side, and then bolstered him with
several pillows against his shoulders, hips, and back in order to keep him that way.  

“Is that going to be comfortable?” she asked one she had finished.  He nodded and she pulled the blankets
over him.  

A comms had been fastened to his pillow near his head, and there was the quiet whine of a DRD coming from
the ceiling somewhere above where he lay, which completed the monitoring system his friends had arranged for
him.  The only thing he had to remember was that if he had a problem during the night, all he had to do to get
help was to ask for it.  Someone would appear.  He repeated it silently to himself several times, trying to get his
brain to keep the information in storage, instead of losing it like it usually did.

He had remembered the DRDs the instant he had spotted one of the yellow drones; that was not a problem.  
But Aeryn and the others had needed to explain the comms to him several times.  He had been confused by a
memory of something called a communicator, and had become angry and frustrated when no one else
recognized either the term or his description of the object.  They did not understand that until he made sense of
the conflicting information, he could not be certain that he would recognize the small bit of metal if he woke up
and needed it.  

He would remember the DRD, he told himself.  That was enough.

Aeryn was sitting on the edge of the bed, watching him.  He gazed back at her, expecting her to say something.  
The silence lengthened.  The jumble inside his head shifted from an awareness of the pleasant, normal level of
fatigue invading his body, to pleasure at the sight of Aeryn sitting so close beside him, to mild curiosity, and
finally to a degree of confusion that bordered on the total chaos that he was learning to dread.  

It had been a long, confusing day, his first full day back aboard Moya, and he missed the peace and relaxation
of the water.  Every word was turning into an insurmountable obstacle, keeping his eyes open was becoming a
problem, and he did not want to go to sleep until he found out why she was smiling at him that way.  

“Wha’?” he asked.  

Aeryn smiled, pushed his hair back from his forehead, cupped his cheek in her hand, and did not say anything.  
The chaos descended, just as he had feared.  There was little reason left inside his head.  He wanted it to stop.

“Wha’ is it?” he asked again, hoping that Aeryn’s explanation would restore some order.  

Aeryn tilted his head on the pillow, took one more look at him, and then kissed him, longer and with more force
than she had kissed him at any time since they had taken him out of the pool.  Order returned, spiraling around
a single overwhelming compounded sensation.  He had believed that he remembered everything there was to
know about Aeryn.  He had been mistaken.  There was no memory of the way her tongue quested deep into his
mouth, intertwining with his; or how it felt when her fingers stroked him lightly beneath his ear as she kissed him,
generating a chill that burst from the pit of his stomach to his extremities and raised the hair on the back of his
neck.  

“Don’ … knowed that,” he said.  “Again?”  

She smiled and repeated the caress, lingering long enough that he could attempt to return it.  Gentle tango of
tongues, exploration of smooth surfaces, her breath against his cheek.  A flurry of images flooded into his mind
and he pulled at her more fiercely, suddenly knowing what it was supposed to be like.  She pulled away and
looked at him more seriously.  

“Don’ knowed that,” he lied.  He grinned at her to let her know he was joking.  “’gain?”  

“Get some sleep.  It’s been a long day for all of us.”  

“Wai’, Aeryn.  Why you looking like that?”  There was something about the serious look -- a piece of it that he
thought was unusual -- that he needed to understand.  Aeryn hesitated, and he decided she was not going to
answer, but she finally turned back and looked at him again, the same way as before.  

She ran her hand across his temple several times, smoothing the hair against his head, then answered in a
near whisper.  “I didn’t think I was going to get you back this time.  Some of you was back on board, but I had
lost you anyway.  I was thinking how lucky I am to be sitting here with you.”  She kissed him one more time,
more briefly than before.

John responded to her in a rush, eager to convey an important message.  As usual with anything that matter,
the syllables emerged in a hopeless tangle.  

Aeryn sat very still for several microts, with her eyes closed, which meant that she was trying to make sense of
what he had said.  Sometimes it worked.  Sometimes their translator microbes could work through the jumble.  
He assumed that everyone’s microbes were getting better at translating nonsense.  But tonight Aeryn shook
her head.  “Try it again more slowly, John.  I couldn’t understand that.”   

He took a deep breath and said it again, more slowly, concentrating on not allowing the sounds to go flying off
in strange directions, as they so often did.  

“Had t’ come back.  I made a promise.”  

                                                                              * * * * *

Aeryn stood inside the bulwarks of Pilot’s station, helping him pick out images that might trigger John’s
memories.  She watched the recordings stream across the primary display while using her peripheral vision to
keep track of which images Pilot was shunting to the newly created datastore, breaking in only when she
disagreed with his selection.  

“Not that one, Pilot,” she said, flicking a finger in the direction of the secondary display.  It held an image of
Gilina from when she had helped them install the pile of junk that had passed as a defense shield for a short
time.  “If he remembers her, he might remember the Chair.”  

“That is part of his memory, Aeryn.”  Pilot arrested the flow of the recordings, made the necessary adjustments
to remove the image, and looked at her all at the same time, complying with her request despite questioning
her decision.  “Do you not want him to remember that occurrence?”   

“John will remember soon enough.”  Aeryn stared off into the dark of the enormous chamber, depressed that
Crichton had to endure his present debilities while he unknowingly faced the return of so many traumatic
memories.  “He has enough to worry about right now.  He does not need the added burden of those
memories.”  

“Aeryn” -- Pilot resumed the download -- “I have wanted to ask you something about Crichton’s current
condition.”  He paused at an image of Varla, waited for Aeryn’s decision, and then continued.  “His choice of
words does not always seem entirely appropriate to the circumstances he is attempting to comment upon.”  

“When do they ever?”  She laughed briefly, thinking of John’s history of impenetrable comments.  Pilot
responded with one of his rare smiles.  “How do you mean, Pilot?”  

“Crichton is no longer making complete sentences.  His comments are disjointed, even for him.  Over the past
several cycles, I have become familiar with many of his untranslatable terms, but many of his words are
currently coming through without an equivalent in my own language.  It is very confusing.”  

“We know, Pilot.  The delvians warned us that it might take some time for his capacity for language returns.  We
are all having trouble understanding him.”  She ran her hand across his cranial shell.  “Try to place the
sentences in context and concentrate on the words that are coming through.  His speech should improve
soon.”  

The large symbiote sighed and gave her a single slow, depressed looking nod.  “I could prepare some
recordings if that would help him recover.”  

“We discussed that possibility with the delvians before we left their moon, Pilot.  John remembers the symbols
for most of the words he is trying to use.  That’s not the problem.  He just can’t produce them correctly, and
he’s the only one who really knows how to pronounce them.  We think pushing him any harder would only make
him more frustrated than he already is, and would probably only make his speech worse.  We need to give him
time, Pilot.  He’s improving already.”  

Pilot arrested the flow of images.  “I miss him a great deal, Aeryn.  I miss Crichton.”  

“John is back aboard Moya, Pilot, and he is going to get better.”  She forced a smile through the desire to cry,
disarmed by Pilot’s unexpected empathy.  “John will be himself again.  All we have to do is give him enough
time.”

Pilot’s arms resumed their perpetual motions across his controls, attending to the constant intricacies of
maintaining all of Moya’s mechanical functions at the same time he continued assembling a collection of
images.  “I miss him,” he repeated slowly.  

                                                                              * * * * *

Crichton was belly-down, lying on his stomach, every bit of his attention trained on the recordings Pilot had
prepared for him.  He was sprawled on the strategy table in Command with Rygel and D’Argo sitting alongside
him to answer questions as the images set off memories.  They had been at it for two arns and he was getting
tired; fewer and fewer bursts of recall were breaking loose as he came closer to the point where he had to put
every bit of energy into the fight to stay awake.  

“Wait!  Go back, Pilot.”  The series flicked backward one by one.  “Stop.  Who’s dat?”  John struggled to boost
himself up on his elbows so he could look at the view screen straight on instead of at an upward angle.  The
person in the image seemed devastatingly familiar, someone incredibly important to him.  The frustration of not
being able to knock the memory free was approaching the level of physical discomfort.      

“That is an alien who took the form of …”

“My father.  Dat’s my father!”  It felt like he had been hit by a hammer; the single memory knocked others loose,
creating a cascade of flickering images, each one too indistinct to make out but helping to create a larger
sense of who the gray-haired person had been and what his place was in his life.  One elbow slid out from
under him and John did a belly-flop back onto the table.  He struggled back up.  

“Not really, but this individual did take on the appearance of your father.”  D’Argo was trying to be careful.  John
had not remembered the Ancients’ knowledge or his experience in the Aurora Chair yet, and they had all
agreed to avoid dredging up that memory until Crichton was further along in his recovery.  “Do you remember
your father?”  

John gave up his attempt to prop himself up and settled for rubbing his head.  “No.  I know it him, but it’s not
mean something.”  He banged his head against the table.  “Stupid.”  

“You are not stupid, Crichton,” Rygel offered generously.  “A bit limited as far as species go, but not stupid.”  

John looked up with a speculative expression on his face.  “Humans be superior?  What’s mean that?”  

“Oh no.”  D’Argo said, groaning with dismay.  “You had to remember that!”  

                                                                              * * * * *

“Whasis?”  John prodded at the food with his finger.  

Aeryn turned to watch as he examined the plate sitting in front of him.  He had not regained the use of most of
the muscles in his torso yet, but with the help of the DRDs they had managed to create a form-fitting chair with
a harness that held him upright for meals.  

The first time he had seen it, Crichton had flatly refused to sit in it.  He had not been able to explain why he did
not like it, so they had been forced to assume that he was troubled by his disability, and that his irrational
distaste would fade at the same rate that he regained his strength and ability to do things for himself.  After half
an arn of arguing about the chair, they had issued an ultimatum.  They had given him the option of using the
seat and its attached seatbelt and shoulder straps, or eating his meals on his bed in his quarters.  John had
grudgingly agreed that this would create less work for his friends, and had not fought them when they placed
him in it for the first time.  

Aeryn continued to watch him out of the corner of her eye; he was peering suspiciously at the pronga sinew,
melvak beans, and steamed Forlarian barley.  They were some of his favorites, and she had hoped that he
would recognize the choices.  His expression slowly turned to one of anxiety, and then into something that she
thought looked like grief.  

“Whasis?” he asked again.

“Try the green things, you like those,” she said without actually answering the question he had begun asking at
most meals.  She continued preparing her own meal during the thirty microts it took for him to pick up his
utensil.  It was an extended struggle that he insisted on completing on his own.  At least today he had allowed
her to place his hands on the table.  Getting them from his lap to table height was one of the most strenuous
achievements he had managed to master so far, but it normally took several tries, and often left him too
exhausted to feed himself.  

She turned to check on him just in time to watch as his hand approached the metal implement that was
commanding his entire attention.  He came close to getting his fingers curled around it only to have them spring
open before he could get a grip.  She watched, silent and motionless, as he scowled at his hand and tried
again, finally capturing the utensil in an awkward grasp.  He used his other hand to rearrange the metal
implement so he held it more naturally, then took a long breath and shifted his attention so it was focused on
the food in front of him.  

Aeryn knew that every moment like this was a testimony to John’s most basic personality, the portions of his
character that frequently were not visible to the people around him, but that had allowed him to survive the
scarran torture.  While she had always known he could be stubborn, she had never suspected that he could be
this obstinate.  Under normal circumstances, the trait was tempered by the more complex facets of his persona
-- the facets that were, for the time being, missing.  Without the mask of mature behavior, and heightened by
his frustration and anxiety, he became nearly unmanageable when he made up his mind that he was not going
to do something.  

That was both good and bad, and Aeryn was all too aware of both sides of it.  Another man might have let her
help him pick up the utensil, but another man would have died in the scarran stronghold.

Aeryn turned back to the warmer to get her own meal and to set aside some of the pronga for the others, then
checked to see whether he had finally gotten some of the melvak beans speared.  He had, but he was staring
at them as if they were a dreaded enemy.  The utensil dropped to the tray with a clang, thrown down with a
moderate amount of force.  He rubbed at his eyes and forehead with the heel of his other hand, appearing
tired, and stared unhappily at his plate.  He had started chopping his sentences down to the minimum
necessary to make himself understood, a sure sign that he was approaching the limit of his stamina.  

Aeryn set her tray down, choosing a seat that faced him from across the table.  “What’s wrong with that?”  They
were having a terrible time getting him to eat anything.  

John turned his head to gaze off into the corridor.  He finally sighed, and then looked back at her with all the
anxiety still in place.  “Don’ know.”  It was close to a whine.  “Don’ want any.  All seem so … strange.”  He
shoved the utensil with a loose fist, his hand shaking with fatigue.  “I like this really?”

“That’s what you have been telling us all these cycles.”  Aeryn watched his head start to drop, the muscles
standing out rigidly in his neck as he fought to lift it back up.  He had only fallen asleep four times since First
Meal, and was long overdue for a blackout.  She concentrated on reassuring him, convinced that getting him to
eat was not going to be an issue for much longer.  “You eat them all the time.  Is there something else you’d
rather have?”  

“Don’ know!” he yelled in frustration.  “No things look right,” he said more quietly as he got himself back under
control.  “Don’t know what look right.  Want a thing else, but don’t know what.”  

He rubbed his eyes again; the motion turned into an attempt to hold his head up as it started to sag forward.  
His hand gave out as well, and she waited patiently while he battled against a type of fatigue that could win out
over any effort to stay awake.  It was over in eight microts, inexorable exhaustion winning out over even the
most stubborn tenacity.  John’s chin dropped onto his chest, his body tilted forward, and then he slumped
against the shoulder straps as his body insisted that it needed more rest.  

Aeryn had pulled the uneaten meal away, released the straps, and was lowering him to lie on the table when
Chiana and Jool came into the chamber.  The two women hurried forward to help her, and between the three of
them, they managed to shift him forward onto the table until he looked fairly comfortable.  John did not stir as
they settled him, not even when they had to heave together to move his body weight far enough forward that he
would not slide off the table.  The exhausted blackouts they had been warned about had begun, amusing
everyone with their intensity.  Chiana rubbed the back of the sleeper’s head, deliberately jostling him as he lay
senselessly with one cheek resting on his forearms.  There was not the slightest flicker of a response; not a
sigh, not a twitch, not a change in his expression.  The shutdown was absolute.  

“Did he eat anything before he went out?” Jool asked.  

Aeryn pointed to the undisturbed meal.  

It was Chiana who finally sighed and said, “I thought it was Crichton who was supposed to be patient.  I didn’t
think it was going to be us.”  

                                                                              * * * * *

When he had insisted that walking should be the first priority in his rehabilitation, he had not expected it to hurt
this much.  He wanted to be able to take care of himself, and that meant being able to get to and from his bunk
at night without calling anyone to help him, and not being forced to allow D’Argo to carry him around Moya.  
Crichton clamped his teeth together and tried to take another step.  He could remember what his legs were
supposed to do; the muscles refused to follow his directions.  Every attempt to move his foot forward only
succeeded in generating discomfort from his toes to the top of his skull.  

“F’elling bas’ards,” he said, panting.  John glared at his boots.  His abdominal muscles were trembling from the
strain of being upright, and his shoulders were starting to burn.  D’Argo and Aeryn waited patiently, supporting
his full weight as he tried again to bring his right foot forward.  “Move!” he yelled at it in frustration.  His foot
continued to ignore him.

“I need to set you down, John,” Aeryn said after two more vigorous outbursts at his uncooperative feet.  

He nodded, continuing his policy of never arguing when the others got tired.  They shuffled together to the
strategy table and maneuvered him onto a seat, lowering him so that his upper body rested safely on the table.  
He turned his head so his forehead rested against the cool surface and waited for the pain to subside, watching
as the occasional drop of sweat from his soaked hair spattered onto the table next to him.  His shirt clung to his
back, drenched with perspiration from over two arns of effort that had yielded only eight faltering steps.  He
banged his forehead against the table, treating himself to a screech of frustration.  

“Stop it,” Aeryn said.  Everyone knew what his screech meant.  He had been using it often enough over the
past several days that he would not have been surprised if they told him the translator microbes were
converting it into profanity.  

“Don’t make us say it again,” Aeryn said, interrupting his thoughts about pain, helplessness, and whether his
own language had a word that meant the same thing as ‘frell’.

Aeryn was referring to “time and patience”.  They had been chanting those three words at him practically non-
stop for the past several days, but he found it difficult to be patient when he could not get around the ship on
his own or even feed himself.  He tried lifting his head to look at her, intending to apologize for his outburst, and
the effort sent another sparking explosion of pain ripping through his body.  He settled for rolling his head to
the side to peer up at Aeryn, pressing his cheek against the refreshingly cool surface of the strategy table.  

She drew a thumb down his cheek, wiping away a torrent of sweat that had been threatening to trickle into his
eye.  He appreciated her concern, but for the moment that light touch hurt more than the mild sting of salt in his
eye.  John rolled his head face down again, and waited for the discomfort to subside.

He considered mentioning the pain, deciding in the end that there wasn’t anything that could be done about it.  
Whenever he pushed himself beyond some point physically, his entire nervous system seemed to go into
starburst, every inch of his body singing with discomfort.  It varied from day to day and depending on how tired
he was, sometimes manifesting itself as a burning sensation, and other times as a shocking ache almost too
close to the original injury.  He assumed it would get better as he continued to heal.  

“Give it time, John.  It’s only been seven solar days.”  He rocked his head further to the side so he could look up
at Aeryn.  She was standing next to him, stretching her neck, trying to relieve some of the muscle strain that
was the result of supporting at least half his body weight for several arns.  “You are expecting too much out of
yourself.”    

He gathered his arms under his shoulders and pushed himself upright.  It was an extremely hazardous process
since he did not have the strength to catch himself if he started to tip over backwards.  He got himself propped
into a half-raised position on his elbows, ignored the flood of discomfort generated by even that small bit of
effort, and gazed at her.  

“Look a’ you.  You’re sore cuz you have t’ carry me.  I’s gotta stop.  I gotta walk now.  I’s there!  I can feel them
doing the work, they juss won’ move.”  An elbow started to slip and he struggled back into position.  

D’Argo’s voice cut into the brief silence.  “John, three days ago you could not do what you did just then.”  

“What’d I do?”  

“You managed to catch yourself and sit up again after you started to fall over.  You could not do that three
solar days ago.  John, you have got to give yourself more time.  The delvians told you that if you pushed too
hard, you would wind up going backwards instead of improving.  You have to find balance.”  

Just as the last word came out of his mouth, John tried to sit up straighter and started to topple to the side
instead.  He scrabbled desperately at the table with both hands and somehow managed keep from falling over,
but the recovery meant that he wound up slumping back onto the surface of the table, face down, with a
thump.  

“That wasn’ the ba’ance you meant, was it?”  His face was flat against the table, cheek pressed against the cool
surface.  It made his already slurred speech even less intelligible.  John rocked his head to one side, in part to
make it easier to talk but also so he could look at Aeryn.  “’kay, no’ so much every day.  I say it.  Time and
patience.”  

She smiled at him and rubbed his back several times.  

“So how ‘bout one more try?” he said, thinking that he might be able to get one more session in before he
collapsed.

This time it was Aeryn who let out a quiet screech of frustration.  

“Never mind,” he said quickly, realizing that he was pushing the limits of her patience.  The hand returned to his
back, easing tired muscles and conveying both reassurance and understanding.  The touches told him that
Aeryn knew how difficult this was for him, and that no matter how annoyed she got with his behavior, it would
not last.  

John sighed and felt the numbing effects of exhaustion moving in, warning him that he was about to run out of
energy.  He closed his eyes, trying to gauge how much time he had left before his body shut down on him,
thinking that they might have enough time to go through some more memory jogging images since he was in
Command anyway.  The decision was stripped from him when two pairs of hands tipped him away from the table
and into D’Argo’s arms.  

“Oh, no,” he complained weakly.  He thought they had settled this thing about being carried like a little kid.  
D’Argo shifted his weight effortlessly, boosting his head onto the muscular shoulder and settling his weight
more comfortably into the arms that never seemed to get tired.  John tried to remember when and where they
had argued this matter out, but his memory was at its most annoying just then, full of disconnected images that
refused to settle into any pattern.  There were too many gaps, not enough facts, and he could not make any
sense of the jumble inside his head.  “I don’t --”

“Shut up, John,” Aeryn ordered, cutting off his protest.  

He smiled, reassured by her fast retort.  This was obviously familiar territory to Aeryn.  Her response told him
that he was treading well-known ground.  Another small piece of his life was there for him to consider and
commit to memory.  He wanted to tell them something about how secure it made him feel when they knew things
about him that he could not remember, and how it let him know that his past was here, waiting for him even
though he could not grasp it yet; but the exhaustion had taken over and he could not summon the correct
words.  He concentrated on the sound of their footsteps instead, the quiet thud of two pairs of feet striking
Moya’s metalloid floors and echoing quietly as they moved through the tiers.  He let the sound work at his
recall, coaxing at the lost moments when he’d heard it in the past.  Nothing substantial sprang loose.  The
echoing tones were fading, making it difficult to use them as a lever, and then they were gone.      

“He’s asleep,” D’Argo said.  The body in his arms had suddenly gone limp.  He stopped, unable to maintain a
good grip on John’s unwieldy body once all the muscle tension had disappeared.  Aeryn helped him as he first
lowered Crichton’s feet to the floor, and then lifted him again, this time slung over his shoulder.  

“He’s pushing too hard,” D’Argo said as they resumed their journey toward Quarters.  “He’s not moving as well
as he was three solar days ago.”  

“I know.  His speech has lapsed, too.  I can barely figure out what he’s saying some of the time.”  

Aeryn watched one limp hand swing back and forth as D’Argo walked in front of her.  They made the turn into
Crichton’s quarters, and she helped D’Argo ease his burden down onto the bunk.  While she pulled John’s
boots, D’Argo opened a thermal sheet and floated it over the still body.  

“How do we get him to slow down, D’Argo?”  

A long hiss preceded his answer.  “He is Crichton.  Even under all these injuries, he is as stubborn as ever.  I
have no idea how to get him to take it easier.”  

Aeryn sat on the edge of the bed next to John, turning one of this boots over and over in her hands, no longer
part of the conversation.  

“Is there something wrong?” D’Argo asked when she continued to silently examine the footwear as thought it
held some cosmological secret.

Aeryn held the boot up for him to see.  “No wear.  They’re brand new.”  She placed it on the floor next to its
mate and watched John instead.  “Whenever we’re holding him up, I wind up watching his feet and those new
boots.  Every piece of his clothing had to be replaced.  His jacket is so new it creaks every time he shifts.  
There’s something about having him back without any of his old clothing that leaves me feeling …”   Her words
trailed off into silence.  

“Unbelievably lucky,” D’Argo finished for her.  

Aeryn nodded, her gaze still fixated on the relaxed features lying against the pillow.  “Sometimes Chiana and
Jool, and even Rygel, have good ideas.  Let’s talk it over at Last Meal tonight and see if we can come up with
some way to get him to slow down.”  She tugged the cover more securely around John’s shoulders and they left
the chamber.  

“Let’s make sure we don’t forget Pilot.  He and Moya often see situations from a unique perspective.”  D’Argo’s
voice floated through the corridor as the two headed back toward Command.  Two DRDs working on a conduit
near the ceiling watched the biologics disappear, swiveling their eyestalks to observe the interaction as long as
possible, and then shunted the signals to Moya’s massive data stores.  

                                                                              * * * * *

Aeryn caught up to D’Argo and John three junctions prior to the turning for the Center Chamber.  She could
hear them before she could see them, and based on the conversation floating back through the tier she knew
what she would find when she turned the final corner separating them.  John was counting, which meant that
D’Argo had John slung over his shoulders and Crichton was entertaining himself -- head down and facing
backwards -- while he waited for the journey to come to an end.  Half of the numbers were emerging in Luxan;
the rest were in English.  The bilingual delivery was the result of D’Argo having done most of the work that
resulted in the restoration of John’s more rudimentary understanding of mathematics.

There had been no tidal-wave release of damage-imprisoned knowledge this time.  No matter how many times
they reviewed the basic mathematical functions with John -- counting, addition, subtraction, multiplication, and
division -- the original understanding, gained during his childhood, remained sequestered in a damaged portion
of his brain.  They had resorted to teaching him the principles from scratch, always hoping that at some point
during the lessons the barriers would come down and he would suddenly recover the full extent of his
mathematical expertise.  Splinters and bits of higher mathematics had begun to emerge.  The sorts of intricate
functions that John had used more recently in his life were working their way loose on their own.  But John’s
ability to count from one to ten and to combine small one-digit integers into a larger sum remained a confusing
endeavor.

“What’s after thir’deen?” John was asking D’Argo.  

There was an extended pause before D’Argo answered, “Why don’t you save your energy for feeding yourself.  
We’re all getting tired of spooning food into your mouth.”  His attempt to skirt the correct answer did not have
the desired effect.

“I got ten fingers an’ ten toes.  That’s …”  The inaudible murmuring that was John counting under his breath
went on for several microts.  “I always comin’ up wid twen’y one, D’Argo.  Tha’s not right, is it?”

The number 14 had gone missing from John’s understanding of numbers.  He had regained extensive but
unconnected chunks of his former expertise, and could in some cases perform incredibly complex calculations
that left everyone else on board reeling, Pilot included.  But seven plus seven was an unfathomable bit of
addition, and if he had to resort to counting to compensate for a missing segment of knowledge, any result
larger than thirteen was always off by one.  For the time being, as far as John was concerned, it was logical for
thirteen to be followed by fifteen, and twenty minus six was an irresolvable mystery.

He was counting again, more thoughtfully this time.  “Three an’ ten is thir’deen,” he said slowly.  “An’ five plus
ten is fif’deen.”

Accelerating to a full-out run, Aeryn managed to catch up to the pair before Crichton could reason out that he
was missing ‘four plus ten’ and ponder out the inevitable answer.  He was too close to solving the puzzle, and
she was convinced that it was still too soon for him to cope with that degree of trauma, even if it was part of his
recall that he had deliberately hidden from himself.

“Hey, there!” she greeted him.  As she had expected, he was hanging head down over D’Argo’s shoulders.  
From that position and at this stage in his recovery, it was impossible for John to raise his head to look at her.  
“What have the two of you been up to for the last few arns?”

“Hey, Aeryn!”  John’s free hand swung in her direction, searching for her.  

She darted forward to catch it, and then trailed along as though being towed by the tenuous grasp.  “Have you
been having fun today?”

“We wen’ a see Pilot, and den hago a grake n’yee fromak … Aw, frell!”  

That sort of descent into incomprehensible gibberish was happening less frequently with each passing solar
day.  Fortunately, as the symptom diminished Crichton was able to handle his occasional lapses with more
humor.  They had begun deliberately teasing him whenever it occurred, working on rebuilding his ability to cope
with jokes as well as his limited capacity to recognize when they were not being serious.  It was no surprise to
anyone that his peculiar sense of humor was recovering faster than any other part of his body or mind.  

“Very nice, Crichton,” D’Argo said in an exaggerated mocking growl.  “Have you been taking language lessons
from Pilot?”

“Id was perfec’ly clear.  It must have been you ears,” John said, sacrificing some of his enunciation in the
interest of getting it out faster.  “Whad’nt it, Aeryn?”  

She could not help but smile.  It was the first time he had managed a comeback, and although it had been a
little unsophisticated, both his tone and his timing had been excellent.

The trio turned the corner to the Center Chamber, cutting off the remainder of the gentle repartee.  “We’re at
the Center Chamber,” Aeryn warned John.  “From here on, you save your strength for eating.  No fighting us,
no movements unless it’s absolutely necessary.  Do you understand?”  

The final question had little to do with verifying that John understood her words.  It was actually a firmly issued
demand for him to heed and obey each of her instructions for the next arn or so.  Getting him settled for a meal
had become a thrice-daily battle -- one that frequently left him too exhausted to stay awake, let alone feed
himself.  John’s initial reluctance to use the chair with the harness had turned into full-blown loathing.  Coupled
with the Crichton stubbornness, it was turning mealtimes into wars.  

“Hate it,” he grumbled into D’Argo’s ribs.

“We have been through this too many times already,” Aeryn said sternly.  “Stop fighting us.  There is no other
way we can do this other than to have someone hold you up, and no one is volunteering for that chore.  You
either sit in the chair, or we are going to let you starve.”

“Hate it,” he repeated, sulking.

“Stop it.  Behave yourself!”  

D’Argo shuffled into place, and between the two of them they slid John off his shoulders, and tipped him into the
seat.  Aeryn noticed that the seat, which had originally been molded to accept John’s body, now had room to
spare.  In the solar days since they had returned to Moya, John had already lost a considerable amount of
weight.  Between falling asleep mid-meal, his refusal to eat any food he did not recognize, which was almost
everything, and the exertion of trying to feed himself, John often expended more calories during the course of a
meal than he managed to take in.

The resistance began.  It started with him arching his head back in an effort to push the rest of his body forward
out of the chair.  Aeryn caught him by the chin and the back of the head and forced it back down.  That was
when he started squirming to the side:  another effort to work himself loose.  With a speed gained from
repetition, D’Argo snared the two ends of the lap belt, buckled it, and yanked it tight.  John got a hand on the
edge of the table and shoved, still fighting the restrictions.  

Aeryn leaned in close to his ear, and yelled, “Stop it!”  It was the only way to get through to him when he was
operating on nothing more than stubbornness.  

“Hate … it,” he pushed out between panting breaths.  “Don’t do it t’ me.  Hate … hate … hate.”  

D’Argo paused with the first of the shoulder straps in his hands.  He fingered it for several microts then bent
down to look at it more closely.  “Aeryn, where did these come from?”

“I don’t know.  Tier One somewhere.  Why does it matter?”

“These are leather.”

“Why does that matter?” she repeated.  John continued to struggle, making it difficult for her to concentrate on
whatever D’Argo was finding so fascinating about the harness they had fashioned.  

“None of the safety harnesses used by the Peacekeepers are made of leather.  John’s module uses a woven
material for the straps, as does Lo’La.  Your Prowler uses synthetic webbing even on the secondary restraints.”

“Of course they do.  It’s stronger.  No one uses leather because it ages and weakens, and micro-tears are
undetectable until it’s too late.”  She shifted her grip to John’s shoulders and pressed down, pinning him into
the detested chair.  He ignored the conversation going on around him and kept fighting to get loose.  The fact
that it was futile did not seem to matter to him.  Just as he had every other day, he was expending every last bit
of available energy on his bid to get free.  Aeryn bent over him and tried a request instead of an order.  Some
days it worked.  “Will you please stop fighting?”

“No.  Want out.  Get out.  Out, out, out, out.”  John continued to fight them.  For the first time he managed to
get an arm into the fray.  Not only was he writhing to get loose, now he could hit, even if only weakly and without
aim.  

Aeryn resorted to a strangle hold that was just short of choking him, and turned her attention back to D’Argo.  
The luxan had not moved to fasten the shoulder straps.  “No one uses leather anymore.  Your point?” she
asked.

“No one uses it except the scarrans,” D’Argo said slowly.  “The scarrans use either leather or metal.”

Aeryn stared at him in a combination of shock and disbelief:  shock that the answer might be so simple, and
disbelief that they had been forcing this unintentional torture on John without considering that there might be
another reason for his resistance.  They had been assuming that John’s failure to communicate what he
disliked was a matter of obstinacy instead of an inability to figure it out, let alone tell Aeryn or the others.  It was
several microts before she could say anything.  “Dren.”

One microt later the lap belt was released and they had Crichton out of the chair.  

“What’s goin’ on?” he asked.

“Why don’t you like the chair, John?” Aeryn said.  They had asked him this question dozens of times over the
past few days in a quest to make sure he did not associate the crudely built seat with the Aurora Chair, and he
had never been able to explain what it was that bothered him so much about it.  But his memory and ability to
reason were improving with every passing day.  This time it might provide a clue.  “What bothers you about it?”  

“Is kiddie chair.  High chair.  And is …”  He looked back at the seat and shuddered.  “Is wrong bad.”  

‘Wrong bad’ was John’s latest addition to a lengthening list of phrases he used whenever his supply of words
and memories could not formulate a more coherent explanation.  

They had quickly learned that ‘yuck bad’ was applied to anything having to do with his inability to control his
body.  Drinks spilled down his front, inadvertently spat out food, drooling, a runny nose, and the highly
infrequent but humiliating accident in the middle of the night were all classified under the heading of ‘yuck bad’.  

‘Bad feel’ was his code phrase whenever his nervous system misfired, the source of increasingly rare seizures,
random muscle contractions, levels of pain that were decreasing with each passing solar day, and the odd
cross between a hiccup and a burp that always preceded a short-lived but potentially fatal respiratory arrest.  
They had only been forced to resort to artificial breathing on two occasions, and that was more than enough to
convince everyone of the threat posed by this latest problem.  If John announced that he was experiencing a
‘bad feel’, it was all the explanation they needed to put an around-the-clock watch on him until it went away.  

‘Ick bad’ involved a far simpler concept.  This was never used except when John disliked a food to the point that
he would consider spitting it out.  ‘Ick bad’ was ignored at each person’s own peril.  They had a choice of
switching quickly to a food he liked, or they were expected suffer the consequences without complaint …
including cleaning up the resultant mess.

There were nearly a dozen more such phrases, all painstakingly deciphered and classified over the past
several days, and then shared so that everyone would know what he meant.  

‘Wrong bad’ was a new one that had appeared only two days earlier.  From its usage, they were beginning to
suspect that John resorted to this whenever he subconsciously associated something with his torture, and did
not recognize the cause behind his apparently illogical reaction.  The crippled consciousness could progress to
the point of knowing that something generated any one of several distressing emotions, and that was as far as
it usually got.  The new experience was classified as ‘wrong bad’, and John would go to absurd lengths to avoid
whatever triggered the reaction.  

Aeryn and D’Argo hauled him to one side of the chamber and let him down to sit on the floor.  

“We do a picnic?” John asked.  

“There are some spares in Maintenance Bay Two,” Aeryn said to D’Argo.  “Left over from when Moya was
enslaved.”  He nodded and disappeared into the corridor at a jog.  Aeryn turned her attention back to the figure
sitting with his back against the wall.  “John?  Explain kiddie chair, high chair to me.  Why is that bad?”    

He looked from her to the chair and back several times, during which his forehead gradually creased its way
into a commentary concerning his level of confusion.  

“Do you know why that is bad?” she asked, rephrasing the question.

The furrows above his eyebrows deepened.  “No.”  

“But it is bad.  Right?”

“Yes.”  He was calmer now, and was putting more thought into her questions.  “Aeryn, I still don’t wanna sit in it.  
Not high or low.  I can’t ex … ex …”  There was a deep breath and a slow swallow before he could pronounce
the word.  “I can’t explain it.  I don’t know why.  Just don’t.”  

“D’Argo has an idea why that might be happening.  I want you to stop worrying about not wanting to sit in the
chair for a few microts and concentrate on the height.  Do you want it lower?”  

John stared at the reviled piece of construction for nearly ten microts before giving her a slow nod.  “Yes,
please,” he whispered.

“All right.  We’ll see what we can do.  Are you tired?  Do you need to sleep for a while?”  The sort of effort he
had put into getting free normally sapped his strength to the point of a total blackout.  He nodded.  Aeryn eased
him to one side until he was lying down, and then helped him roll onto his stomach.  Four microts later he was
dead to the world.

                                                                              * * * * *
   
He woke feeling as though he could leap up and run through the tiers.  Just before waking he was visited by a
memory of striding about one of the larger chambers aboard Moya, gesticulating wildly with both hands, his
long overcoat swinging and slithering about his hips and legs with comfortable familiarity.  In that transitional
moment between dream and reality he could feel it all:  the way his feet flexed and pushed from one side to the
other, the way his abdominal muscles tautened and relaxed as he moved and shouted, the pleasant stretch of
his shoulder muscles and the way the movement of his arms could be felt all the way to his spine.  It was so
realistic he woke thinking he could walk.    

The sensation faded in a matter of moments, leaving behind a far more limited reality.  When he opened his
eyes, John discovered that he was in what was becoming a habitual position:  face down on the floor with his
head cradled on his arms.  After three tries, he managed to get his arms tucked in under his body, and then
heaved himself up onto his forearms.  With his head now six denches off the floor, he had achieved the tallest
stature he could manage on his own.  From that vantage point, he surveyed his surroundings.  

“John, save your strength,” Aeryn’s voice called to him.  “Lie down.”

Although he could hear the voices of most of his friends, he could not actually see any of them.  D’Argo and
Aeryn were somewhere close by, as were Chiana, Rygel, and Jool.  He could hear several DRDs whining about
as well.  From his spot on the floor, however, he could see nothing of any of them.  “Wha’s goin’ on?” he called.

Aeryn’s calm explanation floated back to him.  From the last part of her answer, he decided that she could see
him even if he could not see her.  “We’re getting ready for Last Meal.  You’ve only been asleep for half an arn
or so.  D’Argo and I are going to come get you in about one hundred microts so lie down and save your
strength.”

John followed orders.  He let his muscles relax and slumped belly-down on the floor.  Waiting for Aeryn and
D’Argo to come get him gave him some time to think about what might be going on.  As usual, his efforts yielded
very little in the way of conclusions.  

It was time for Last Meal, Aeryn had said.  That meant the chair they forced him to sit in whenever it was time to
eat, and the chair meant the sick feeling in his stomach, the shaking he tried so hard to hide from the others,
and the confusing sense that something horrible was about to happen to him.  There was no reason for his
reaction.  He was aboard Moya, and they continued to assure him he was safe.  At least once a day someone
went out of their way to remind him that they were nowhere near the section of space where the Others
resided.  On top of that, sitting in the Center Chamber during meals was a return to normalcy that felt ‘right’.  
The others joked with him, teased him, and on very rare occasions they all threw food at each other,
encouraging him to join in.

And every time he faced the ugly chunk of furniture that his friends had gone to so much trouble to assemble
for him, he came close to puking with fright.  

Aeryn knelt down next to his shoulders.  “We’re done.  Are you ready?”

“I don’t want to, Aeryn.  Put ih down here.  I eat here.”  John pointed to a spot on the floor located several
denches from the tip of his nose.  

Aeryn’s headshake had all its usual forcefulness, but for some reason her expression was far more tolerant
than most of the times she ordered him to do something he disliked.  Despite the softer look in her eyes, her
answer confirmed his worst fears.  “No.  You’re going to sit at the table with the rest of us.”  

“Please,” he whispered.  “I don’t wan’ to, Aeryn.  Don’t make me.”  

This time she actually smiled at him.  “If you still don’t like it after tonight, we won’t make you use the chair
anymore.”  

John considered that.  Struggling up on his elbows, he strained to look toward the table.  He and Aeryn had
picked up an audience.  Everyone was waiting for them.  Jool, Chiana, and Rygel were sitting in their usual
seats ranged around the table, and D’Argo was poised a motra away, ready to help lift him up once he was
finished talking with Aeryn.  Even the DRDs had not departed.  Several of the brightly-colored drones were
motoring around beneath the table, picking up bits of litter and just generally policing the large chamber.  

“Time to go,” Aeryn said.  Without waiting for an answer, she and D’Argo levered John up to his knees, and
then hauled him upright.  Between them, they manhandled him to the far end of the table until he stood facing
the chair.

He noticed that there was something different about it.  “Is not a high chair,” he said.   

“That’s right.  We lowered it, just the way you asked,” Aeryn said.  

The three of them stood there like that, waiting for something.  John contemplated the ugly bit of construction,
reserving all of his energy for controlling the fear when it hit.  Nothing happened except that his shoulders
started to ache.

“Can we sit you down and eat, please?” D’Argo grumbled to his right.  

“Okay.”  They shuffled around and let him down into the seat.  Ten microts later he was securely strapped in,
similar to … something he could not remember.  

Aeryn gave one of the shoulder restraints a last tug, brushed a quick kiss across his lips, and stepped back.  
“How’s that?”

“Is okay.”  John looked down at where the thick, red webbing seat belt lay across his waist.  It was comfortable,
not frightening.  He could not remember why the chair had scared him so badly.  The emotions were vividly
etched in his memory; it was the cause behind it that was not so clear.  Whatever had triggered the unbalanced
reaction had evaporated.  Aeryn continued to stand in front of him, obviously waiting for something.  

“What?” he asked.

She shook her head and smiled at him.  “Nothing.  You’re all set for Last Meal?  Do you need anything before
we get the food out of the warmer?”

“Nuh.  Is fine.  Is okay now.”

“The chair isn’t wrong bad?” she asked, continuing to dig for something he did not understand.  

“Nuh.  Did I say it was wrong bad?”  He did not remember making that claim.  The seat was not wrong.  It fit his
body perfectly, it was padded so nothing rubbed uncomfortably against his back or his hips, and the restraint
system was comfortably familiar even though he could not remember why it made him feel that way.  “Is good.”

Aeryn leaned down and kissed him again.  This one lasted longer.  Twice before Last Meal was a treat beyond
anything he could remember.  “Can I get three?” he asked breathlessly when he could talk.

“Save your strength for eating.  If you’re still awake when Last Meal is over, I’ll give you a third.”

It was the best motivation possible.  John kept his eyes on her until someone set his plate in front of him, and
then, with one last glance at Aeryn, turned his full attention to getting the food inside his mouth instead of all
down his shirt.  He did his best to earn his third kiss.  Sleep’s onslaught was denied repeatedly throughout the
meal, even though it left him feeling dizzy and in the end sapped him of the strength necessary to lift his
utensil.  More than once, Chiana came to help him get his hands from his lap to the table, and when he could
not lift the drinking flask, D’Argo agreed to lend some assistance.  But somewhere between the dark, semi-
liquid mess that Chiana said was stew and the overly sweet pudding that he liked more for how it felt on his
fingers than for its taste, he fell asleep.     


                                                                          * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chapter 11                                                                                                                                                                             Chapter 13
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