Child Of The Night - Chapter 13

“John, wake up.  Quick, wake up.”  

Aeryn shook him vigorously, allowing herself a microt to issue a prayer that he would come out of his coma-like
sleep quickly despite the fact that he had been dumped onto his bunk by D’Argo only an arn earlier.  Crichton
muttered in his sleep and burrowed further into his pillow.  She let out a sigh of frustration and shook him
harder, his entire body jostling from her effort.  

“John!  Wake up!”   

“What?” he mumbled groggily, raising his head at last.  His eyes focused as he rubbed at them with one
fumbling, half controlled hand.  “What’s the matter?”

“Do you remember when we left the New Moon of Delvia, I told you about some scans that had Pilot worried?”  
Aeryn helped him roll from his stomach onto his side so he could look at her more easily.  

“Uh huh.”  His response was positive, but he looked only half-awake and he did not seem to be paying complete
attention.  

“Whoever they are, they’ve caught up with us, and they’ve snared Moya in some sort of stasis field.  Pilot’s
either unconscious or cut off from all sensory input; we haven’t had time to get to the Den to find out which.”  
Aeryn shook him again, trying to keep him awake long enough to listen to what she needed to tell him.  “Do you
understand, John?  Repeat what I just told you.”  It was the only way to be sure he was really paying attention
when his body was shutting down on him.  

“Moya’s caught in a stay-put field.”  Aeryn grimaced when he paraphrased her news.  He tried a different
summary.  “We’re in trouble again.”  

“Good.  We think we’re going to get boarded and without …”  Her rapid explanation stopped as his eyes
became less focused.  “John!”  His head came up but his gaze was no clearer.  Aeryn sucked in a deep breath,
clenched her jaw and slapped him.

“Okay, I’m awake.”  This time his attention had sharpened.  

“I’m sorry, John, but there isn’t much time.”  He shook his head at her, forgiving her the aggressive method of
bringing him back to full alertness.  “Without help from Moya or Pilot, there’s little chance that we can prevent
them from getting aboard.”  She waited for John to nod before continuing.  “We don’t know who or what they
are, but we’re assuming they’re hostile.  We’re getting ready for a fight.  If we don’t succeed, John …”

“I come to the rescue,” he said in a disgusted sounding grumble.  He shook his head then continued in a more
unemotional manner.  “What can I do?”   

“Nothing.  I wanted you to know what was going on.  If they capture us, we are going to tell them you’re sick,
that whatever you’ve got is catching.  We will attempt to scare them with that, so do your best to act …”

“Helpless?”  His grin lacked its usual humor.  

“Pathetic.  You have always been very good at that,” she said, gently teasing him.  Aeryn kissed him quickly,
picked up her pulse rifle from where she had laid it next to his bunk, then continued to kneel next to him for a
few more microts.  “If they take over the ship, don’t say anything to make them angry, John.  You have to keep
them from thinking you’re any kind of threat.”

“Are they going to win the fight, Aeryn?” he asked, watching her get to her feet.  

She watched the too-familiar anxiety reappear, an expression that she had seen less often since they had
brought him back to Moya.  “We don’t know, John.  I want you to be ready to do whatever they want though.  Do
nothing to make them angry or want to hurt you.  Do you understand?”    

“I understand.  Aeryn?”  She stopped at the door to his cell and looked back.  “Be careful.”  She smiled at him
and hurried away, the rapid footsteps echoing off the metalloid walls as she ran back through the tier to join the
others.  

John rolled onto his stomach and stared blindly at his close-up view of his pillow.  “Pathetic,” he mumbled.  
“About all I can manage at this point.”  It was not a foregone conclusion that he was going to have to play the
part yet, but Aeryn had not sounded very optimistic.  

He listened to the rhythmic rumbles coming from the walls around him, trying to discern a change that might
have resulted from the weapon the invaders had used.  As far as he could tell, Moya sounded normal.  He tried
to think of something he could do, some suggestion he could offer that would help his friends resolve their
current dilemma, and found very little except the gaping holes where there were supposed to be memories
concerning this sort of situation.  

The too-frequent exhaustion was beating at him, making it difficult to get his brain to turn loose anything
productive, leaving him nearly devoid of any logical thought.  He kept trying anyway, working his way through
the bits and scraps that he could dredge up about stasis fields and trying to access some memory about who
might be after them.  It was hard work.  He had to replay Aeryn’s conversation repeatedly inside his head,
stopping at each small fact or theory, and then dig through what little remained of his memory to see if anything
popped out.  The process took too long and burned through too much energy.  At some point during his futile
deliberations, he closed his eyes just once to let them rest, and in that instant sleep claimed him.   

                                                                              * * * * *

Something prodded painfully into his ribs.  John filled his lungs in preparation for the complaint he intended to
bestow on whoever had decided to use such an inconsiderate method of waking him up, and then, at the last
moment, remembered Aeryn’s hasty visit.  He eased one eye open to check on who was there.  Unfamiliar
boots and pants stood alongside his bunk.  He used the stored air to let out a long whining moan, trying hard to
achieve ‘pathetic’.

“Get up,” said a growling voice with an unfamiliar accent.

“I told you!” Jool’s voice said.  “He is dying.  He contracted an incurable illness.  He cannot move on his own.”  

“Get up!” the deep voice bellowed next to John’s ear.  

He produced another long whimper, let his mouth sag open, and wondered if he could get himself to drool on
the pillow.  That would be pretty pathetic, he reasoned.  

“What is this disease?” the voice demanded, hot breath flowing across the back of John’s neck as the speaker
leaned over him.  

“I doubt anyone from your species has heard of it,” Jool said haughtily.  “It is --”  

There was a loud crack, followed by a brief scream from the interon.  Another cautious look through a barely
opened eyelid revealed Jool sprawled on the floor, blood trickling from one corner of her mouth.  

“Do not assume me fool, screeching woman.  What is this illness?”  Two large boots moved to stand over the
dazed woman.  “Tell me or I will shoot you.”  

“He has the --”  

John listened in admiration to the intricate babbling of syllables that followed.  His translator microbes were
incapable of transforming even one word of whatever she was saying.  

“It is transmitted by --”

She had been talking fast, hurrying to finish, but she was still chattering when a large hand fastened onto the
back of John’s shirt and flung him on to the floor.  He let himself go limp as he was yanked off the bunk, and hit
the deck hard enough to rebound slightly before coming to rest with a groan.  ‘Fling, thud,’ John reflected
wearily.  It was too much like the battering tosses by the scarrans, one of the few clear memories he possessed,
and it set off an intense emotional response.  This time the wordless complaint was genuine -- a long deep
exhalation giving voice to the pain that reverberated through his body.  John let the emotional distress combine
with the physical shock, relaxed all self-control, and before he was sure it would work, tears began to creep
down his cheeks.  ‘Pathetic,’ he told himself, trying hard to comply with Aeryn’s request.  

“It is transmitted by skin to skin contact!” Jool finished too late.  “He should not be touched without protection!”  

The deep voice snarled behind John, clearly displeased.  The speaker growled yet another word that his
microbes could not handle, probably profanity, there was another loud smack and Jool collapsed across his
legs.  Crichton struggled to keep himself from moving or yelling something as the intruder pulled Jool up and hit
her again.  Fury and aggression -- a combination he had not felt in so long that he had almost forgotten it
existed -- welled up inside him until he could barely restrain himself.  His emotions took over his debilitated
body, leaving him shaking as violently as if he were chilled to the core.  

“What is that?” the growl demanded.  A cautious foot dug under Crichton’s ribs and drove him a motra across
the floor, flipping him over in the process.  “What is happening to it?”  

“This is the last stage of the disease.  He is dying,” Jool said, adding to the lies.  Her voice had become
indistinct.  John wondered if it was his hearing that had suffered a change, Jool’s voice, or if Jool and her captor
were leaving.  He wanted to open his eyes to see what was going on, but he knew that if he did, there was a
good chance he would squander her efforts to mislead her captor.  So he lay still and relaxed his muscles,
allowing the shudders and tears to continue.  

A frustrated snarl came from directly above him.  “Is this the creature named Crichton?” the voice asked.  Jool’s
confirmation was a wordless mumble.  “We cannot get reward without proof of its death.  We will have to take
the body back with us.  Or a piece of it.”  The feet moved even closer, brushing up against his ribs, and John
prepared himself for what little physical retaliation he could muster.  He could not just lie there and let what was
obviously a bounty hunter hack off some portion of his anatomy.  

“No!” Jool cried.  “He’s … he is infectious.  You will kill every one on board if you dismember him before he is
dead.”

John took another careful peek as the boots stopped next to his head.  Soles ground against the floor, making
an unpleasant rasping squeal as their owner pivoted back and forth several times.  The intruder was hesitating,
considering Jool’s warning.  “How long?  How long before it dies?”  

“I … I don’t know.  A few arns, I think.  I have never observed anyone during the last stages of this affliction.”  

The owner of the boots growled in frustration.  “You!  You will remain here with this” -- he kicked Crichton in the
ribs -- “until it dies.  You will inform us when it is dead.”  

Lighter feet collided with his body; Jool’s feet, Crichton concluded when she tripped and fell on top of him.  
Deep bellowing laughter allowed John to follow the intruder’s progress toward the door of the cell.  “I will
presume that your fate is now determined, noisy woman.  If you do not die before that does, you let us know
when it is dead or we will not bring food.”  

The cell doors slid closed, followed by the quiet chirping tone that indicated their jailer had locked the
mechanism.  John did not open his eyes until the footsteps, echoing slightly in Moya’s deserted corridor, faded
into the distance.  Jool remained sprawled across him with most of her weight lying across his chest, which
made it hard to breathe.  He put all his effort into breathing and waited until the last sounds disappeared
entirely, concentrating on preserving the tiny opportunity she had created.  

“Jool, you can get off now,” John called to her weakly once the corridor had been silent for several microts.  He
had to fight to draw in enough air to speak.  “Yo, Red.  You can let me up.  I’m not a danger to you.”  

He craned his neck to look at her.  Jool was lying unconscious with her head against the hard base of his bunk,
knocked senseless by her fall across him and the resulting collision with the bed.  “Jool?  Hey, Red?”  She did
not move.  “Frell me.”  He surveyed the body lying across his chest and hips, considered his last comment, and
then added, “On second thought, don’t.”  

John squirmed madly, twisting his body and shoving against her with both hands, trying to work out from
beneath his latest form of imprisonment.  After several microts worth of frantic effort, he was forced to admit that
she was too heavy for his limited strength.  He would have to find a different way to get her off of him.  Only one
solution came to mind.    

“You’re going to scream.  I just know you’re going to scream.”  He put a finger in one ear and pinched her arm.  
He could not get his second ear plugged in time.  The expected shriek had him wincing with a new kind of pain,
watching with fascination as the edges of her comms began to melt and run.  The memory of tiny projectiles
melted to blunt uselessness popped loose from wherever it had been hiding, unhelpfully divorced from any
relevant context.  The disconnected image of Jool inadvertently saving his life took its place in the grid work of
his slowly returning recall.  

“Ow,” Jool whined after taking in a new lungful of air.  She glared at him.  “You did not need to do that,
Crichton.  But I suppose asking politely is beyond your limited capacity for civilized behavior.”  She rolled off
him, rubbing her arm and pouting, and then turned back and helped him sit up against the bunk.  

“Are you all right, Jool?” he asked, looking at the bleeding lip and darkening bruises on her face.  “Did they hurt
you?”  An all too familiar knotted sensation settled into place in the center of his chest; anxiety making an
unwelcome visit.  The marks from the physical battering she had received left him feeling insecure and
unsettled just at the moment when he needed those emotions the least.  John swallowed against the tight
feeling several times, trying to force it back down into his stomach where he could ignore it.  

“I will be fine, Crichton.”  Jool’s voice dragged his attention away from the physical sensations inside his body
and back to the matter at hand.  “We have to do something!  They have taken Moya and everyone on board
prisoner.  They’re --”

“-- bounty hunters,” he finished.  He tried to concentrate on their predicament.  “Wasn’t that kind of quick?  How
long have I been asleep since Aeryn came to talk to me?”  

“Not long.  They used some sort of stasis or paralysis weapon.  The field is temporary but it does not wear off
on its own.  They have to release it.  We were waiting for them in the hangar bay when they landed, so they got
everyone at the same time.  It was a stunningly brilliant strategy on our part.”  

“Couldn’t be helped,” John said with a small grunt of emphasis.  He tried to get to his feet.  The attempt was as
futile as every other time he had tried it on his own.  He motioned for her to help him up.  

“Can you walk if I support you?” she asked.  

“No,” he said, slumping back down in dejection.  “I still need both D’Argo and Aeryn holding me up.”  John
looked around at their surroundings, surveying his quarters for anything that would allow them to get loose and
help his friends.  “We need some sort of plan.  Get me --”  He slapped the side of his head several times in
frustration when he could not find the name of the object, then pointed to the pulse pistol hanging in the
corner.  “Get me that thing.”    

“Winona,” Jool said, providing the prompt automatically as she stepped across the cell to retrieve the weapon.  
“Some sort of plan.  How about I lure them in here, and you bite them on the ankles,” she said.  “What do you
think you can do with this?  You can’t even hold things yet.”  Despite the mocking tone that suggested it was a
waste of time, she knelt beside him and helped him strap the holstered weapon into place.  

“I can do more than that.”

“Such as?” she said, throwing it back as a challenge.

“I can at least bite them on the kneecaps.”  

Jool had a point though.  Between the two of them, the sum total of the threat they posed was virtually
nonexistent.  Crichton let his upper body tip over to one side.  He flopped chest first onto the floor, twisted to
get his hips turned so he was belly-down, and then began crawling toward the door, pulling himself laboriously
along on his forearms.  “How about we start with getting out of here?  Any idea how to get this door open?”  

“Rygel knows how to override the locks,” Jool said.  She was sitting on his bunk rubbing her bruised cheek,
watching his slow progress away from her.

“Don’t have Rygel.”  He reached the door, and used the bars to pull himself close alongside the locked grate.  
From there, he craned his neck to look up at the mechanism.  He suspected that his pistol would blow the lock,
but he could not remember whether it would release the door or seal them inside the cell.  His frustration
mounted, fueled by his concern for Aeryn, Pilot, Moya, and everyone else on board.  As usual, the runaway
emotions made organizing his thoughts even more difficult than usual.  

He was still pondering the probable outcome of shooting the lock when a quiet multi-toned whine approached
from one end of the corridor.  Three DRDs swept toward the chamber and came to a jerking halt outside the
grate across from where he lay on the floor.  Six eyestalks peered at him through the gaps.   

“Hi guys.  What’s up?”  One of the drones had blue tape on its eyestalk.  The sight triggered the suggestion
that he should have a memory of the little robot without actually unleashing anything useful.  

“Have we met?”  The blue-tape unit blinked at him once.  

“Stop wasting time,” Jool said behind him.  “We need to figure out how to keep those barbarians from killing us
… or worse.”  

There was another quiet whine as a fourth DRD made its way down the ceiling, headed in the direction of the
door mechanism on the corridor wall.  “Hang on a microt,” John said to Jool.  “These little guys seem to have a
plan.”  

The DRD with the tape blinked once.  

“Is that a signal?” he asked it.  It blinked once.  John stared at it, bewildered.  It blinked at him again.  It was a
signal, he realized, but his damaged recall was not providing help figuring out the system.  It blinked at him
again and something broke loose inside his head, solving the mystery.  “That means yes?” he asked eagerly.  

One blink.  

“I hope you don’t just have a short circuit.”   

It blinked twice.  

“You’re pretty smart.  Smarter than me anyway,” he said to the DRD.    

“Crichton, you worked this system out with them once before.  You taught it to one of the DRDs, and it taught
the rest.  What is the plan?”  Jool had joined him at the bars to the cell, standing over him as he faced the DRD
eye to eyestalk.  

“Do I look like I understand ‘DRD’?  I don’t understand much of anything these days let alone squeaks and
chirps.  That one up there is working on the lock, and this one down here is the house speaker.”  The phrase
popped out of his mouth without his knowing what it meant.  He considered asking Jool what a ‘house speaker’
was, then decided that it could wait until after they had resolved their dilemma.  The doors swung open,
revealing three more DRDs waiting a short distance up the corridor.  

“You guys here to rescue us?”  

He received a single blink from the tagged drone.  The three DRDs across from him backed out of the way, and
Crichton began his slow progress into the hallway, followed closely by Jool.  

“Hold on.”  Something about the situation began to bother him.  John squirmed around to look back into his
chamber, knowing the problem was back there even if he could not identify the source of his uneasiness.  A
momentary flashing image of sneaking out of … a room somewhere … sometime when he was younger …
fooling someone.  He banged his head on the floor, trying to knock the memory loose.  

“Don’t do that!  Crichton, getting out is not enough.  We have to come up with some sort of plan.  We do not
know how long it will be before that sub-educated excuse for a sentient lifeform comes back to check on us.”  

“Got it!” he said.  Jool’s diatribe had provided enough of a hint that he was able to snare the elusive memory.  
“You have to stay here, Jool.”  

“I certainly will not!  Those retrograde criminals subjected Pilot and Moya to a different version of the stasis
weapon, and they are proposing to take us all to some base where they can get a reward for us.  I will not stay
here while they are preparing to haul us off to the Peacekeepers.”  

John dropped his forehead to the floor, breathing slowly and deliberately.  The thought of Moya and Pilot being
captured was generating a resurgence of the painfully tight knot in his chest.  It was more than uncomfortable.  
It threatened to take over his entire, limited supply of intelligence.  He tried to steer his thoughts away from that
prospect.  It worked for a moment, and then ran headlong into an imagined vision of Aeryn in captivity.  That in
turn resulted in a nausea inducing sensation that was ten times worse that the clenched fist inside his chest.  

There was not enough information available inside his head to gauge his chances of getting them all free, and
the prospect of failure was making him lightheaded with fear.  He took another deep breath and tried to get his
thoughts and emotions under control.

“Crichton, are you all right?”

“Yeah.  Look, you have to stay here, Jool.  What if that guard guy comes back?  He’ll notice that we’re both
missing.  Put a bunch of pillows and some of my junk under the covers so it looks like I’m in my bunk, and tell
him I haven’t died yet.”  He twisted his upper body so he could look up at her, anticipating another argument.  
“It’s not going to work the other way around.  If I stay, they’ll notice that you’re gone.”  

Jool took two steps along the corridor, her stiff-legged gait and rigid stance stating clearly that she did not
agree with him.  A DRD swept in from one side, stopping directly in her path to stare up at her.  It chirped twice.  
John grinned at the impudence of the unit, smothering the smile before she had an opportunity to turn around
and spot his reaction.

“Very well,” she agreed.  “I suppose you have a point.”  

“Is that DRD still up by the lock mechanism?  It has to close you in.”

“Yes, it’s waiting there.  Let me get your jacket.  You may slide on the floor better with that on.”  John waited
impatiently as she retrieved the leather jacket and awkwardly slid it into place.  She fastened the buckles for
him, and then tugged at the waist and shoulders several times, shifting it into place so it sat more comfortably.  

“Jool, are these little guys smart enough to come up with a plan on their own?”  John remained on his back with
his hips and legs twisted uncomfortably.  

“That’s a good point.”  Jool was kneeling beside him, considering the question.  “I do not believe the DRDs
could do this on their own.  Either Pilot or Moya or both must have recovered enough to direct them.”  She
rolled him onto his stomach, releasing the strain generated by his unnatural position.  “Be careful, Crichton.”  

“Uh huh.  Right.  Crichton the Crab is off to save the day.”  He started his struggle down the corridor.  “Can’t
walk, can’t hold a weapon, but I’ll be careful.”  He stopped long enough to shake his head at the irony of their
situation then he followed the cluster of yellow drones as they motored slowly ahead of him.  

                                                                              * * * * *

John slithered along the corridor as quickly as his body would allow, struggling to keep up with the scurrying
little drones.  Another pair of DRDs appeared from his right and fell in alongside him, bringing the squadron
around him to more than twenty.  He had discovered that if he did not try to use his legs, they would operate
spastically on their own, providing an occasional burst of momentum whenever a boot sole caught on some
small ridge in Moya’s floor patterns.  Attempting to kick himself along faster only produced useless twitches from
his lower extremities; when left alone they worked reflexively.  

“Hold on guys,” John said to the DRDs.  He was in desperate need of a rest.  His forearms were getting sore
despite the added protection of his jacket, and although the leather slid easily along the floor, the buckles had
a habit of catching on seams in the floor, slowing his progress.  

The head DRD banged into his hip, nudging him forcefully.  

This was something new.  He had stopped to catch his breath several times since he left his chamber; his
mechanized companions had never complained before.  

“I’m pooped,” he said to it.  “Give me a microt.”  

It chirped at him, spun around twice and rammed his hip again, finding bone this time.  

“Hey!  That hurt.”  John bit his lip and scanned the corridor, searching for the purpose behind the new
behavior.  “I don’t …”  He stopped talking as he heard the footsteps approaching.  A large portion of the DRDs
had already peeled off from the pack and had disappeared into corners, hatches, and other corridors, leaving
him lying in plain sight with the remainder of the squadron surrounding him.  “Frell,” he muttered quietly.  The
nearest open door was across a junction.  It would take him far too long to crawl past the intersection.  

Crichton pushed himself up on his elbows in order to look back the way he had come.  There was no cover in
that direction either.  Panic began to take over, strangling his thoughts.  “Damn it!” he whispered.  Aeryn’s life
might depend on him, and he had screwed it up by not paying attention to the DRDs.  The futile urge to cry
chose to make another visit, adding to his misery.  “I screwed up.  I’m sorry,” he said to the blue-tape DRD.  
The lump in his throat expanded to aching dimensions as he thought of Aeryn and the others, and he scrubbed
at his eyes, trying to prevent the threatening tears.

Five of the DRDs banged into him all at the same time, targeting their attack along the right side of his body.  
They backed up and did it again.  John rocked away from them in irritation, giving way before their repeated
collisions.  They shot forward and began burrowing in under him, circuits screaming as they attempted to force
themselves beneath him.  Three more slammed into his right side, nudging deeper.  Their struggle suddenly
made sense, and he rocked to the left, letting them get underneath his body.  

“Nice idea but lumpy,” he whispered.  The footsteps were drawing closer.  He rolled onto the eight robots,
straining to lift the left side of his body off the floor.  Six more DRDs scurried in under him.  Two more
abandoned their attempts to get underneath his left leg and positioned themselves to push against his
dragging foot instead.  “Where to?” he asked, trying to balance as he was carried forward on his whining yellow
raft.  

They were headed straight for one of the DRD hatches.  John stared at the hole in shock for a moment, then
ducked, letting his forehead brush the floor as they carried him through the opening at maximum speed.  His
shoulders caught for a microt, and he pulled his arms in toward his sides.  He popped free and the entire
phalanx shot into the maintenance opening inside Moya’s inner hull.  

Boots squealed on Moya’s floors, turning the corner of the intersection where he had been laying microts
earlier.  The clumping steps strolled past his heels, never suspecting that he lay less than a motra away with
several DRDs digging painfully into his ribs.  Eyestalks waggled excitedly beneath his body, squirming like a
bed of hyperactive snakes, minus the usual squeaks or clicks that always emerged from the units when they
were behaving like living creatures.    

“Nice job,” John whispered as the footsteps faded.  “Should we try to kill him?”  

The idea of shooting someone in cold blood made him shudder with revulsion.  He knew from talking with Aeryn
and D’Argo that he had killed people in the past though.  There was no choice except to do it again.  Several
DRDs clicked happily beneath him, and the mass began backing slowly out of the access tunnel.  The intruder
was halfway down the corridor by the time the DRDs got him out and turned him around.  John rolled off the
shifting metal bodies, scrambling to get his pistol out of the holster before the lumbering figure disappeared.  

His hand crawled up alongside his prone body, weighed down by the heavy weapon, which waved wildly from
side to side in his weak grip.  “Get over here,” John whispered to a drone, pointing with his free hand to a spot
on the floor in front of him.  Resting his wrist on the yellow hemisphere steadied his aim and elevated the pistol
so that the sights were centered on the bounty hunter’s back.  

“Hey!” he yelled once, tracking the figure as it whirled around.  It took almost his entire reserve of strength to
pull the trigger.  There was little left to keep the entire weapon steady as he snatched at the action, but the
pulse blast flew true, taking the surprised invader in the center of the chest.  

“We did it!”  John looked around at his mechanical companions.  He was not sure how they were managing it
with nothing but a pair of lightstalks to convey what they were thinking, but they all looked happy.  “One down, a
bunch to go.  Lead on.”  He rolled halfway onto his side, holstered Winona after four missed attempts, and then
began the laborious slither down the corridor, trailing the midget warriors as they sped toward their mysterious
destination.  

Half an arn later John dragged himself toward the side of the corridor, pulling himself tiredly across the last
body length so he was lying alongside one of Moya’s thick internal ribs.  There was no bulkhead along this
stretch of passageway, and he could look down over the edge of the floor to the tier below.  His recall of Moya’s
labyrinthine tiers had failed shortly after he had crawled away from the corpse of the bounty hunter, and it was
not until he saw the diagonal support struts silhouetted alongside the ribs with vacant space behind them that
he began to form an idea why the DRDs had led him to this particular spot.  

His fleet of DRDs had continued to grow as he squirmed along through the corridors until there were almost
forty of the units traveling with him.  Now, as he hauled himself toward where the blue-tape drone waited, he
saw that there were almost twenty more of the DRDs waiting for them, each one carrying a silvery sphere.  

“What’s the plan?” he whispered to the leader.  He got the three words out just in time.  A massive yawn
wracked his body, consuming every bit of available energy, coordination, and concentration.  

One of the sphere-toting units motored over to him.  It parked itself in front of his nose.  John examined the
metallic object, knowing that he should recognize it.  He turned it over and over in his hands, searching his
sparse memory, praying that the information would crawl out of the vast voids that took up most of the inside of
his head.  The DRDs waited patiently, some of the collection of drones examining the prone human while he, in
turn, puzzled out the purpose of the object.  

There was a seam running around its circumference.  

“Can I open this thing?” he asked the unit sitting in front of his nose.  One blink.  John spun the two halves
apart, exposing the innards.  He pulled each element free of its casing to inspect it, taking extra care to allow for
the trembling that had begun to infect his hands.  Chemicals, crystals, a mechanical mechanism:  it all fell into
place.  

“Grenades.  These are grenades.”  

He received one blink.  Yes.  

The DRD leader chirped several times.  When Crichton looked to see what the noise was all about, the chirping
was replaced by non-stop blinking.  John reassembled the round explosive and placed it aboard the
appropriate DRD, then crawled forward to where the leader waited for him at the edge of the floor.  They had a
perfect view of both the maintenance bay as well as the strange ship that was squatting in the cavernous
hangar just outside the massive doors.  Three of the intruders were wandering around the maintenance area,
rummaging through storage lockers and parts bins.  A fourth had the upper half of his body inside an access
hatch of the ship.  

“That thing isn’t working,” he whispered, pointing at the space craft.  He received a one-blink answer.  

“They’re repairing it.”  One blink.  

“We’re going to attack them.”  Yes.  

“How?”  

A grenade-equipped DRD scooted in front of him, spun around twice, and then raced away down the corridor.  
It was the last one to leave; every other unit carrying the explosives had disappeared while he was looking at
the layout beneath him.  

“Gonna blow them up.”  Yes.  

“How are you going to time it?”  John rubbed his forehead, noticing the trickles of sweat for the first time.  He
was running out of energy.  The lead DRD ran around to his side and butted him twice in the hip, ramming
against Winona.  

“I’m supposed to shoot them?” he asked incredulously, his voice rising with surprise.  Yes.  

“Listen Pilot …”  Two blinks.  He stared at it, baffled by the response.  John started over, still confused by the
blinks.  

“Pilot …”  Two blinks again.  

“Moya?” he asked.  Yes.  

“Moya, I’m not sure I can hit one of these things from this distance, and on top of that I’m about to crap out
here.  How long do I need to wait before the fireworks start?”  The unit stared at him, blinkless.  

“Moya, do you know when the attack needs to start?”  No.  

“Frell.”  

The exhaustion was beating at him now.  It was simply a matter of time before his body shut down on him
whether he wanted it to or not.  Crichton pulled himself to the edge of the overhang, surveying the scenery
beneath him.  Two more mercenaries had joined their comrades, bringing the total to six.  He scanned the
hangar bay, looking for anything that would give him a greater advantage in the upcoming, lopsided battle.  He
spotted most of the kamikaze DRDs sitting unobtrusively in corners and beneath work surfaces.  As he
watched, more DRDs began filtering into the hangar, each one with its maintenance laser unshipped and ready
for action.  John looked over his shoulder to find that only three of the drones remained by his side, his
personal guard standing watch over him.  

“Almost time?”  Yes, they blinked.  

“Too late.  I’m losing it here, guys.  I need some help.”  An elbow slid out from beneath him and his forehead
bounced off the floor as his body demanded that he surrender to his fatigue.  John struggled to lift his head.  
The blue-tape unit was by his side, coasting from his feet to his head, surveying him with what looked like
mechanical concern.  The darkness moved into the edges of his vision.  

“There has got to be some way to finish this,” John told the robot.  “I don’t need to stay awake much longer, do
I?”  It blinked twice.  No, he didn’t have to hang on long.  “Need a wake up call,” he murmured.  “Need a wake
up jolt.”  A memory attempted to break loose from its imprisonment; it teased him with the possibility that he
might be on the verge of remembering something important.  

“Chemical that would give me a jolt,” he told the unit.  “There’s got to be something on board that will do that.”  
It blinked twice.  

“No?  There’s nothing on board?” he asked in disbelief.  Two blinks.  John stared at the unit, trying to decipher
its latest response.  

“No, not nothing on board.”  He tried the double negative solely to see what response it provoked.  The DRD
squeaked once but remained blinkless.  Crichton gazed at it, tired and befuddled.  

“Something on board, but …”  He gave up, too exhausted to play the game any longer.  One blink greeted his
truncated sentence, inviting him to try one more time.  

“But … there’s something but I can’t have it.”  One blink.  

All the uncertainty and frustration welled up inside him at once, transforming into anger.  He grabbed the DRD
by its undamaged eyestalk, peering into the light as he hissed to the unit and, by extension, Moya.  “We are all
toast if you don’t keep me awake.  If I go out it’ll be arns before I wake up again, and that will be too late.  You
went to all the trouble to get me here so why are you throwing it all away?  Go get me the … the drexim!  That’s
what that stuff was called.  Not a Moya sized dose, just a little human size blast.”  

He received two blinks for an answer.  

“No because you can’t?”  No.  

“No because you won’t,” he verified.  Yes.

There was a burst of voices beneath them.  Querulous tones drifted up to where John lay arguing with the
robot.  He released the unit and dragged himself to the edge of the floor, pulling himself across the last body
length with ultimate caution.  His friends were being herded into the maintenance bay at gunpoint, surrounded
by five more of the enemy.  D’Argo was already inside the chamber, half way to the doors to the hangar.  He
was down on one knee, hands cuffed behind his back, looking dazed.  As John watched, a bounty hunter
reversed his rifle and hit the luxan across the back of the head, driving him to the floor.  Even then the warrior
continued to strain at the metal binders on his wrists, although in a fumbling, disoriented manner.  

Aeryn and Chiana were cuffed together back to back, which was forcing them to move along in an awkward
sideward scramble, and an intruder who looked sebacean was carrying a sack with a Rygel-shaped lump in it.    

John pushed himself away from the edge, back toward where the DRD continued to wait for him.  “Time’s up.  
Get the frelling stuff to keep me awake, or give up now.”  The unit clicked several times and ran in a circle.

“Moya, we have to do this,” John pleaded.  His elbows slid out from underneath him and he slumped tiredly to
the floor.  The darkness was closing in, shutting down his vision and taking over his brain despite his best
efforts.  “Night guys,” he mumbled, “I’m sorry.  It’s over.”  

John sighed.  The despair that had taken over his world a moment earlier was barely detectable against his
exhaustion; the remaining dregs, however, were sufficient to generate an all-encompassing grief that
threatened to accompany him into his personal twilight.  He had failed.  Aeryn would be turned over to the
Peacekeepers and face execution; the rest of his friends would be imprisoned; Moya and Pilot would be
enslaved.  Death and ruin lay on every side of him, all because he could not stay awake.  Tears forced
themselves out from under his eyelids and trickled down his cheek.  Two of the remaining DRDs were nudging
at him, but he was drifting away faster than they could summon him back.  Their efforts faded until he could
barely feel them.  

“Aeryn,” he whispered as his universe went dark.  He had failed her.  “Aeryn.”    

Color and sound returned in a rush.  John looked up just as a unit backed away from him, an injector grasped
in its claw.  

“Changed your mind, Moya?”  The DRD blinked once.  John hiccupped several times, and wiped the back of a
hand across his face.  “Let’s get this over with before this stuff wears off.”  

The unit clicked and chirped several times, blinking madly.  John watched the excited display, trying to make
some sense of it, but the drone finished its frenzied announcement and scurried away without waiting for a
response from him.  “What the frell was that all about?” he asked, speaking to the empty space in front of
him.    

A heart-pounding burst of energy distracted him from the puzzle.  One microt later sweat was soaking into his
shirt and the lining of his jacket, and the skin on his legs began to crawl, insisting that his pants were full of
insects.  John scratched at the uncomfortable feeling, trying to rub away the itching annoyance.  One of his
DRD minders nudged at one elbow, chirping at him as he continued scrubbing at his legs.  

“What?” he asked it, then remembered what he was supposed to be doing.  “Sorry,” he said, “but this feels
terrible.”  It chirped at him and spun away.    

John scrambled to the edge of the floor and reached up for one of the metal braces running from the ceiling to
Moya’s rib.  Grunting quietly, he dragged himself upward, resorting to looping his elbow over the metalloid strut
when his hands would not squeeze tightly enough to maintain a grip.  By the time he was upright and hanging
off the strut by one arm, Aeryn and Chiana were standing near the hatch to the intruder’s ship, dangerously
close to being herded inside.  Rygel’s sack was at their feet and a half-conscious D’Argo was standing beside
them, swaying drunkenly.  

The battle to get Winona out of the holster took him to the verge of screaming with frustration.  His entire body
was suddenly conspiring against him, as if in protest against his decision to use drexim to force it to stay
awake.  

His efforts at rehabilitation had reached the point where he could sometimes stand up on his own, provided he
had something to hang on to; but just as he needed them the most, his legs decided they were not going to
support carry any of his bodyweight.  John cursed at the useless limbs, and scrabbled at the catch securing his
pulse pistol with his free hand.  His left shoulder and arm were screaming at him, complaining of the
unaccustomed burden.  That was when the fingers of his right hand decided to not to cooperate either.  He
scowled down at his hand.  Under the weight of the glare it tripped the catch … and then nearly dropped
Winona as she tilted loose.  

“Grab it!” he ordered his fingers.  For once they obeyed the spoken command.  Four of his fingers wrapped
themselves securely around the grip.  The pinky remained on strike.  He did not care.  Three plus the thumb
was enough for what he needed to do.  

The yammering of a heated discussion drifted up from below.  The mass of bounty hunters was breaking up.  
He had to hurry.  The pulse pistol wobbled erratically upward.  He got it up to his left hand and steadied it in a
double grip.  His right leg finally decided it wanted to partake of the heroism; it shoved him upright, dragging its
useless partner along for the ride.  

John lined up on the grenade-carrying DRD closest to the largest mass of mercenaries.  The group shifted and
the suicidal DRD scuttled along with it, staying close.  The change in positions placed it directly behind where
Aeryn and Chiana were standing.  

“Dren!” he hissed in frustration.  Nothing was going right, which meant that his life was starting to show signs of
returning to normal.  “Hold on,” he said to the DRD waiting near his feet.  “I can’t fire yet.”  

Three of the boarders split off from the main group, headed for the doorway beneath where he stood.  Their
voices drifted up to him, becoming cleared as they approached.  John held his breath, stilling his own panting
long enough to hear what they were talking about.  

They were headed for his cell to find out if he was dead yet.  

He thought about the two groups splitting up, and the cramping queasy feeling deep in his stomach told him
that if some of them left the hangar bay, his chances of pulling off this rescue were going to diminish to less
than nothing.  It had to be now.  He had to keep the three invaders from leaving the maintenance bay, and that
meant he had to shoot.

“Aeryn, get down,” he whispered, willing her to move.  “Get down.”  

The two women remained directly in his line of fire.  He looked around the hangar for a better target, and could
not find one.  He needed to start with the DRD immediately behind the two women.  It would take out the largest
number of the enemy -- assuming he could hit it.  If he chose another grenade and this group scattered, he
doubted he could kill them all before they arranged a counterattack.  He needed to disable one or more on the
first shot, and keep them clumped together in the center of the maintenance bay where he could see them.  

John closed his eyes and concentrated on his need for Aeryn to be safe.  He envisioned the aching desire
clearly and then wrapped that one emotion around him like a blanket, immersing himself in the single focus.  

“Aeryn, get down,” he repeated aloud.  There was nothing in his mind except the clear image of her lying on the
hangar floor.  “Get down,” he mouthed silently one more time.

He opened his eyes.  Aeryn was still on her feet, an angry scowl firmly in place, but she had begun scanning
the huge chamber, searching for something.  Her gaze locked onto a DRD sitting motionless in a corner, its
maintenance laser unshipped and pointed in the general direction of the intruders.  An instant later Aeryn spun
around, tripping Chiana and banging into D’Argo.  All three fell to the floor in a tangle of arms and legs.  John
steadied his shaking body against the vertical pillar next to him, aimed and fired.  

He missed.  

“Crap!”  He fired again.  Both the grenade and the DRD went up in a huge explosion, knocking five of the
bounty hunters halfway across the bay.  The chamber below was instantly transformed into a smoke-filled
arena laced with streaks of red as the DRDs opened fire.  The tangle of his friends’ arms and legs writhed wildly
as they struggled to extricate themselves from the confused knot, moving in frantic haste as the firing escalated
around them.  Pulse weapons and lasers illuminated the thickening smog, turning the entire massive chamber
into a lightning-illuminated battlefield nightmare.  

A fast flickering motion to John’s right, dimly seen through the thickening smoke, drew his attention.  One of the
bounty hunters was taking aim at Chiana and Aeryn.  They were unaware that they had been targeted; they
were too busy trying to squirm out from underneath D’Argo.  

“Over my dead body,” he said in an out of control stammer.  Both his voice and his entire body were starting to
shake from the effects of the adrenalin-like drug.  His right leg chose that moment to give out and he nearly
dropped Winona over the edge in his mad scramble to catch himself.  The strut cut heavily into his left armpit
as every bit of his weight sagged onto it in a single instant.  He ignored the discomfort, pressed his right
forearm against the vertical rib to steady it, and took careful aim at a suicide DRD that had just positioned itself
next to the man who was taking aim at Aeryn and Chiana.

John’s target went up in a thunderous explosion on the first try this time, blowing the threat across the hangar.  

“Eat my yellow bolts of light,” John yelled over the escalating din.  

His tenuous upright position failed him; his left arm slipped free, and he crashed to the floor.  John pulled
himself to the edge of the upper deck and began searching for more targets.  There were still eight of the
bounty hunters scattered around the hangar bay, trying to find cover.  The DRDs carrying grenades were
valiantly repositioning themselves close to the intruders, and John set off each of the explosive balls as they
approached their intended victims.  He had eliminated three of the eight by the time they figured out where he
was hiding, what he was doing, and how he was causing the explosions.  They began firing at the DRDs.  The
remaining suicide drones scampered for cover.  Several dumped their grenades onto the floor, nudged the
spheres toward their attackers, and then fled.  John managed to take out one more of the bounty hunters that
way, and then the maintenance bay went silent.  It was empty of both DRDs and grenades, leaving him to face
seven well-armed opponents, and not a lot of hope for reinforcements.

“Uh oh, I think we’re going to need some help here in another microt,” John said, addressing his single
remaining yellow companion.  “Can you guys do anything about getting the others loose?”  

He received a single chirp for an answer.  

John wriggled closer to a pillar, seeking its protection, and searched for another target.  A rapid glance through
the smoke haze confirmed that the only member of Moya’s crew still in the open was the sack with the Rygel-
shaped bump in it.  The others had disappeared.  A DRD shot out from where it had been hiding, aimed
straight toward where John had last seen Aeryn and Chiana.  Weapons blasts converged on it from several
directions, and it exploded in a mushrooming cloud of smoke and debris.  John swung his pistol toward one
source of the firing, and yanked at the trigger.  

He was lucky.  Another bounty hunter crumpled to the floor, this one with a smoking hole where his chest had
been.  

“Gotcha!”  John began searching for something else to shoot.   


                                                                           * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chapter 12                                                                                                                                                                              Chapter 14
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