Child Of The Night - Chapter 14

Aeryn let out a long growl of frustration.  She was on top of Chiana, who was wriggling just as vigorously as she
was; none of which was doing anything helpful in terms of either of them getting free.  D’Argo had fallen across
her legs and seemed to be unconscious again.  He had regained consciousness just long enough for the trio to
scramble and stagger behind cover, but his subsequent collapse had trapped both women beneath his heavy
body.  Since their captors had used metal binders, she was not sure how or whether she was going to be able
to get loose once she was on her feet, but her training dictated that she solve one problem at a time.  

The battle continued to rage on the far side of the cargo containers that were shielding them from the weapons
fire, and she could occasionally spot the yellow flash of a DRD zipping about beneath the smoke overcast.  A
pulse weapon spat from a location somewhere above them, and she wondered for the tenth time how Jool had
managed to free herself and get her hands on a weapon.  Getting captured in under two hundred microts had
convinced her that there was no way they were going to get out of their latest predicament, which in turn
generated an overwhelming sense of despair every time she thought of John being taken captive in his current
condition.

The arns they had spent locked in one of the empty cells on Tier Six had provided ample time for her mind to
create an endless variety of hideous possibilities, each one revolving around the image of a helpless Crichton
being tortured for information that he was incapable of accessing from his mind.  It would be like abusing a
child, playing off his uncontrollable fears and frequent confusion, perhaps driving him back into the peaceful
portion of his psyche that he had been so loath to leave the first time.  If he was captured, interrogated, and
took refuge in his quiet dreaming place, she doubted that they would ever be able to coax him out a second
time.   

That was assuming that he wasn’t killed in the process.  If they were turned over to the Peacekeepers, John
would be taken apart piece by piece, unable to resist in any useful way as they gradually destroyed him.  His
death would be slow, painful, and even worse, it would be frightening for the befuddled person who had
difficulty getting dressed or finding his way around Moya.  It was the anxious, confused look that she kept
seeing when she imagined them being hauled aboard a Command Carrier, the one that left her sick to her
stomach with worry, and convinced that he would not survive mentally even if he endured the physical abuse.  

“Frell it all!” she snarled.  She glared at D’Argo’s inert body as if it were the enemy.  “I never should have
changed my mind.”  

If she had left John on New Delvia as they had originally agreed, he would not be in such peril.  He was every
bit as helpless locked away in his cell as she was at that moment.  Aeryn ground her teeth together, focused all
of her strength on her lower body, and strained to get a single leg out from beneath D’Argo.  She had to
concentrate on getting free, she told herself.  Her concern for John had to be set aside long enough to resolve
this problem first.  At least for the next half an arn or so, John and his welfare had to come last.  

“Aeryn!”  Chiana’s hissing, whispered demand broke in on her musings, drawing her attention back to the noise
and chaos in the hangar bay.  “Lean to the right … my right, your left.”  

Aeryn looked around at where the nebari was lying, equally trapped behind her, searching for the reason
behind the request.  A DRD was sitting next to their linked bodies, blinking and chirping at them, laser at the
ready.  She followed the instructions and a pinpoint of heat developed near her wrists as the unit began cutting
the binders apart.  

Another DRD exploded somewhere to their right, showering them with shrapnel.  “They’re shooting the DRDs.  
We have to hurry before they …”  A larger explosion rocked them and this time a bounty hunter’s scorched
body slid into sight.  “Frell!  I never knew Jool could shoot that well,” she said, awed by the accuracy of the
shots.  

The first binder snapped apart, freeing her right arm from Chiana’s left.  The DRD whipped around to the other
side of their bodies where it immediately attacked the second binder.  “Can you move toward me, Chiana?  I
can almost reach D’Argo’s Qualta blade.”  The pressure against her back increased, the nebari swearing and
complaining the entire time as they wormed their way to one side, still joined by one arm.  Aeryn stretched to
one side, wrapped her fingers carefully around the hilt, and pulled the blade loose just as the second binder
clanked to the floor.  

“Now what?” Chiana asked.  She tugged at the unconscious luxan’s arm, pulling him off Aeryn’s legs, and they
crouched together behind the containers, trying to make some sense of the confusion in the hangar bay.  “How
many left?”  

“One in the corner.”  Aeryn gestured with her chin; both hands were occupied with converting the luxan weapon
into a rifle.  “Another to your left.”  A stream of weapons fire lit up the underside of the upper tier.  “A third
behind that workbench.  Jool must be up above.”  

“Jool?  No way.  She couldn’t hit the side of a budong if she was inside it.”  Chiana peeked around the side of a
container, eyeing a rifle lying in the middle of the floor.  

“Who else could it be?  Everyone else is here except Crichton.”  Aeryn took aim at the invader crouched in the
corner, then eased her finger off the trigger when he suddenly scrambled to one side, out of her line of fire.  
“What are they doing?”  

Two of the strange intruders began a rapid-fire attack on the source of the pulse weapon fire, giving the third
man covering fire.  The leader of the group ran out into the center of the hangar bay, and his subordinates
stopped firing.  He took aim at the upper level, and waited.  A head popped up and Aeryn started to yell for Jool
to stay down.  She recognized the short brown hair, and her intended shout was choked by surprise for a
critical split-microt.  

“JOHN!  NO!  Get down!”  Her warning scream came too late.  

The bounty hunter fired.  It was a direct hit.  The head disappeared.  One lax hand flopped over the edge of the
platform, releasing a pulse pistol as it did.  Aeryn watched in shock as Winona twisted and tumbled to the floor
of the hangar bay, bounced once, and clattered into a corner.  

“NO!”  

Her second scream held none of the despair and anguish that she felt at that moment.  There was nothing but
anger in that instant:  anger at herself because she had allowed John to come with them when they returned to
Moya; anger that fate and coincidence had put them in the bounty hunters’ path at this particular moment in
time; anger that John had ignored her repeated demands that he not do anything to anger their attackers, and
had somehow managed to get out of his cell and put himself in the way of harm.  Aeryn steadied the heavy
Qualta rifle on the packing container, took aim, and a microt later the leader was no longer a threat.

The two remaining fighters had bolted from cover as soon their leader fired, both headed for the upright
stanchions leading up to the next tier.  They spun around as their superior hit the floor, searching for the new
threat.  Aeryn smiled thinly as they hesitated in confusion, and two microts later the invasion of the leviathan
was over.  The silence pressed on her as she eased out from behind the barricade, cradling the weapon in her
left arm.  Chiana slid off to one side, cocked elbows transmitting caution as she peered at a body and then
nudged it to make sure the man was dead.  Aeryn chose to kick the leader, her way of ensuring that her shot
had done its work.    

She walked to where the pulse pistol lay on the floor, stared down at it for several microts in grief and disbelief,
and then leaned over to pick it up.  Resting the Qualta rifle in the crook of her elbow, Aeryn clutched Winona in
both hands, feeling the warmth stored in the grip from where someone else’s hand had held it only microts
earlier.  The hand that had released the weapon in death was directly above her head, fingers curled under in
final defeat.  She knew it was there, knew she would eventually have to look at it and acknowledge the loss, and
could not bring herself to look up.  

John had fought back from such devastating injuries.  He had even managed to make it to the maintenance
bay in order to save the rest of them.  The idea that he had fallen for such a simple ruse was somehow
inconceivable to her, in the end attributable to his loss of memory.  She had seen the energy charge take him
squarely though, knew that he was dead, and had to accept the fact that it was her fault.  He would not have
been here if it were not for her lapse of willpower when they were on the New Moon of Delvia.   

“John,” she whispered.  A cold, dead knot took up residence in the pit of her stomach.  She had felt that icy
lump spring to life the first time when she was aboard Talyn, a second time when John had not shown up after
their frantic retreat from the scarrans.  It was making itself at home in her guts once again, this time with a
permanence that suggested she would have to live with the dull, sick feeling for the rest of her life.  

“I never should have let you come with us.  It’s my fault.”  

Her thoughts spiraled inward, circling around the same few facts again and again, until there was nothing left
but grief, guilt, and the sequence of events that had led her to this moment.  The panicked scream from the
room in the delvian sanctuary had lured her into making the worst decision of her life, and she knew that
sooner or later she would have to climb up to the overhead corridor and face the empty stare from those blue
eyes once again.  “I’m sorry,” she mouthed silently to Winona, seeing only the dead owner.  There weren’t any
tears yet.  Those would come later when the shock wore off.  

“Aeryn?”  Chiana’s shouted inquiry was full of excitement.  “Look!” she yelled again.  Aeryn turned slowly,
tucking the ownerless pistol into her belt.  Chiana was kneeling next to the dead leader, holding his weapon
aloft for her to see.  “This is what he fired!” she screamed, waving the weapon wildly and pointing toward the
upper level.    

Hope and fear tangled into a queasy feeling conglomeration that had the strength to banish the cold knot from
her stomach, replacing it with an equally uncomfortable cold sweat.  Aeryn stared at the pistol in Chiana’s
hands.  It was the paralysis weapon that had resulted in their embarrassingly fast capture.  She looked up at
the hand hanging over the edge of the flooring.  

“Take care of D’Argo and Rygel,” she said, shoving the Qualta rifle into the nebari’s spindly arms.  Then she
spun around and sprinted toward the ladder leading to John’s ambush spot.  

                                                                              * * * * *

He felt like he was dying.  The energy surge from the paralysis weapon had frozen every muscle in his body
with the exception of his heart.  That single remaining outlet for all of the excess drug-induced energy was
pounding ferociously against the inside of his chest.  He knew that the drexim was causing the problem, and if it
had not been for the stasis field he could have done something to work off the overload of stimulant.  But right
now the only muscle able to react to the go-juice was his heart, and it was doing its best to expend the entire
supply.  It felt as though if it went on long enough, it would batter its way out of his body through his sternum.  
And just to make matter worse, he was feeling increasingly sick to his stomach.  If the nausea became too
severe, he was not going to be able to do anything about that either.

The shooting had ended.  He knew that much from the lack of noise coming from the maintenance bay.  He had
seen Aeryn get loose, so he thought maybe his rescue had succeeded.  None of that was doing anything to
solve his current problem, however.  No one had appeared to see if he had been injured or to help him.  John
began to worry that they had somehow the fight, and the he would have to cope with being captured again.  
That idea frightened him to the verge of panic and he could not do anything more about that than he could
about anything else.  

‘Aeryn!’ he screamed inside his mind, unable to voice the shout.  His condition was similar to the quiet dreaming
place in several respects, only this time he knew what was going on around him and he had not chosen to
reside in this place of helplessness.

A DRD whirred into sight.  It nudged at his shoulder several times, then moved so it was sitting next to his head
and peered down at him.  It blinked once, waited several microts, and then offered another single blink.  

‘Moya,’ he thought in its direction.  ‘Go get help, girl.’  

The memory of a shaggy, light-colored animal with four feet and a tail escaped from the prison of his damaged
recall.  He examined the image, trying to determine why it had popped loose at that particular moment, and then
shoved it to one side, convinced that the memory was of no help.  The drone scuttled out of sight.  The sound
working its way past his feet and along the other side of his body until it stopped near the back of his head.  It
chirped several times, nudging at his shoulder in an attempt to rouse him.  

‘I’m trying,’ he said mentally.  

His lungs were still working.  The rhythm of his breathing was slow and steady, and nowhere near fast enough
to service the rush of his circulation.  It seemed that the bounty hunters’ weapon affected only voluntary motor
control, not autonomic reflexes.  That knowledge did nothing to resolve the sweating discomfort or to relieve the
twinge he had felt several times in his left arm.    

“John.”  Aeryn dropped into sight beside him.  She crouched over to look into his eyes.  “You’re alive.”   

He could not look directly at her, and he still could not say anything.  He could not tell her to release the
paralysis field, could not tell her he was dying inside his own body, could not tell her how happy he was that she
was unharmed.  Worst of all, he could not tell her how much he loved her.  

“What did you think you were doing?”

He was lying immobilized on the floor, possibly dying, and she was scolding him.  His brain instructed his face to
look hurt at her harsh comment.  Nothing happened except that Aeryn leaned into his field of vision in order to
look into his eyes, and then she smiled at him.  “Insane since birth was right,” she said on a sigh.  

John assumed the phrase was something he had told her at some point; the history surrounding the comment,
which might have helped him make some sense of it, was missing from his personal datastores … just like
everything else.  He went on breathing at a steady, measured pace, the sound of his pounding heart filling his
ears and making it difficult to hear what she was saying, and tried to reconcile her two conflicting comments.  He
was not making much headway until Aeryn set about making him more comfortable.  

Her motions were as fast and deft as ever, emotions tucked securely out of sight, but when she pulled his right
arm back onto the flooring of the tier, her hands were shaking to the point that she almost dropped the limb.  It
was the trembling hands that he needed to pay attention to, he decided, not the initial angry words or the
second, apparently frustrated comment.  It was the deep sighs and the gentle hands repeatedly checking him
for injuries that he needed to focus on.    

‘I’m okay, Aeryn,’ he wanted to tell her.  ‘I’m not hurt or dead … yet.’  

The shaking fingers were in his hair and under his chin next, turning his head to lie more naturally and making
sure he could breathe easily.  Breathing easier was not enough.  He was becoming lightheaded from lack of
oxygen; his body was burning through more of it than his slow breaths could provide.   

“It doesn’t look like you’ve been hit anywhere.”  She sounded as thought she was talking to herself as much as
to him.  Aeryn ran her hands under his torso, searching the areas she could not see.  “No bleeding.  You’re all
right.  You’re not hurt.”  She went on to check his legs and lower body, obsessively adjusting his position once
she was done with the initial fast inspection, making sure he was lying naturally and doing as much as possible
to make sure he was comfortable.    

Her trembling hands rubbed his shoulder, turning into another wandering check for damage before she
crouched down to look into his eyes again.  “We’ll release this in a few microts, John.  I left the weapon in the
maintenance bay.  I’ll have Chiana bring it up here as soon as she has D’Argo back on his feet.”  She wiped a
trickle of sweat off his face, her hands moving more steadily now.  “You saved us.”

‘Now save me,’ he thought.  He couldn’t even blink in order to make signals.  Even a frelling DRD was allowed to
blink.  His eyes had been open when the energy field had enveloped him, and they were starting to dry out.  
The itching sensation quickly turned into a horrible burning as the air circulation in the hangar bay carried
some of the dust and smoke up to where he lay with Aeryn watching over him.  The stench of burned circuits
from the destroyed DRDs reached his spot on the floor, and a moment later his eyes started to water.  Robbed
of the ability to blink, his tears wept slowly out of the corners of his eyes, pooled for a moment, and then began
to ease down his nose and cheek.  

“Oh frell, you can’t blink, can you?”  Aeryn rocked his head to one side and closed one eye.  The discomfort on
that side eased immediately.  She gently drew the other lid down, holding it in place until the frozen muscles
ceased their efforts to reopen it.  

On one hand, it was an enormous relief; on the other, he could no longer see what Aeryn was doing, and none
of the other horrible sensations had gone away.  If anything, his heart was pounding harder.  He was beginning
to think it really would be able to burst out through his sternum.  At least that was the way it felt.  

Pilot’s anxious voice burst over the comms.  “Officer Sun!”

“Yes, Pilot.  Are you and Moya all right?”  

“Moya is fine and I am recovering, thank you.  Moya has just informed me that Crichton was injected with drexim
in order to stay awake long enough to effect your release.”  

There was a racket of whines, clicks and chirps as what sounded like dozens of DRDs went into a mad
celebration all around him:  the crowd was roaring its relief that someone had finally identified the nature of the
emergency.    

“Drexim!” Aeryn shouted in alarm.  “Who thought up that stupid idea?  Never mind, I have my suspicions.”  

John listened to her footsteps hurrying away from him and tried to scream at her not to leave.  The pressure in
his chest was building, and he was starting to worry about having a heart attack.  Frustration added to the
stress, compounding the sensation of nausea.  He prayed that the paralysis field would keep his knotted
stomach in check until the rest of his body could react as well.

                                                                              * * * * *

Aeryn crossed the short distance to the ladder.  She leaned over the lip of the vertical shaft, taking in the
current condition of everyone in the maintenance bay in one fast sweep.  D’Argo was on his feet … just barely.  
Chiana was doing what she could to keep him upright, trying to guide the swaying figure toward one of the
smaller cargo containers that they sometimes used as a seat.  Rygel was still in his sack.   

“Chiana, we need to release John from the paralysis field immediately,” Aeryn yelled down to the nebari.  “He
has been injected with drexim.  I forgot to grab the stasis pistol.  Get it up here quick.”  

The weapon was lying on a workbench and she was tempted to have Chiana throw it to her.  The chance that
she might miss the catch, however, resulting in even minimal damage to the weapon, was too great.  Without
the added problem of the drexim, John could wait while they repaired the device.  With the leviathan stimulant
flowing through his veins, they could not risk delaying his release from the paralysis field.    

Chiana towed a staggering D’Argo to where he could lean against one of Moya’s vertical pillars and then
abandoned him.  She scooped the weapon off a workbench and heading for a ladder at a dead run.  Aeryn
returned to kneel next to John, listening impatiently for Chiana’s light footsteps.  His breathing remained slow
and regular; for the first time, that fact worried her.  In the few microts it had taken to call to Chiana, he had
turned an odd grayish color and his lips were tinged with purple.  It occurred to Aeryn that she could use his
archaic method of providing air to his lungs by breathing for him, augmenting his own slow inhalations to
provide the oxygen the drexim would be robbing from his system.  

“Chiana!  Hurry!” she yelled, then began turning John onto his back.  

“How is he?”  Chiana skidded to a stop beside them, and thrust the stasis gun into her hands.  

Aeryn examined the pistol, searching for the control setting that would reverse its effects.  Chiana dropped to
her knees half a motra from Crichton, her attention shifting back and forth between Aeryn’s efforts with the
weapon and John’s slow breathing.  “Hurry up,” she said, bouncing with anxiety.  

“I’m trying,” Aeryn snapped, inexplicably angry.  She knew that it was her concern for John that was making her
irritable, and didn’t bother taking the time to apologize.  She found the setting and flipped it over, checking the
energy reserves before stepping forward to stand over John.  “Drexim and stasis.  Hold on to something, John.  
This is not going to be pleasant.”  

She centered the sights on his chest and fired.

“Ahhhhh!”  John let out a long cry, and then began panting, hauling in one huge breath after another.  “Aeryn!  
That’s awful,” he said as she knelt alongside him.  He squirmed, let out another cry, and went back to his fast
panting.  

“Feel sick?” she asked.  He nodded, devoting all his efforts to getting more air, even to the exclusion of
speech.  “Muscle cramps?”  He nodded again.  “Chills, sweating, headache?” she asked, taking his hand in
hers.  

John nodded.  Even for him it was a jerky, erratic attempt, suggesting that his muscles were working more
poorly than usual.  “I don’t feel very good,” he moaned, looking extremely unhappy.  “It hurts.  I’m tired of
hurting.”

She tried to comfort him, rubbing his chest and the back of his neck as he squirmed against the nausea and
discomfort.  “I know.  The drexim is causing the problem.”  She wiped several trickles of sweat away from his
eyes with the palm of her hand, and when he made a fumbling, ill-directed effort to change his position, she
helped him roll onto his side.   “John, only an idiot would take drexim in the first place, and I can think of only
one person who would take it before going into a fight against a stasis weapon of any sort.”  

D’Argo joined them, moving slowly and keeping one hand on the wall at all times for guidance.  His eyes were
bleary and he continued to look critically befuddled, but he was steadier on his feet than he had been when
Chiana had abandoned him in the maintenance bay.  

John’s gasping voice drew her attention back to the suffering human lying on the floor.  “Had to, Aeryn,” he
said.  

His breathing had eased, but now he was taking long, deep breaths and swallowing convulsively between each
breath, as though he were trying to keep something in his stomach that wanted to get out.  He drew his knees
toward his chest, attempting to curl his body around a discomfort that Aeryn knew might not ease for arns.  She
sat down next to him and pulled his head into her lap, freeing him from the strain of holding it up.  

“Hurts,” he cried quietly into her leg, and she pulled him in closer.

D’Argo wobbled the short distance from the internal bulkhead to where Chiana hovered beside them, and then
dropped down onto one knee.  “Pilot said it was drexim?” he asked.

“Yes.  John needed it to stay awake long enough to do all this, and I can’t think of anything else on board the
DRDs could have gotten up here in time,” Aeryn said.  “Pilot?  How much did he get?”  She flinched at the
answer.  

“How long?” John asked her.  His entire body was starting to shake.  Huge shudders had begun hammering the
helpless body now that the muscles were free to expend the stimulant.

“Don’t think about it,” she said.  “Try to relax; that will help a little.”  

“Oh god,” Crichton said.  He curled up even tighter, folding his body in around a source of misery that he had
inflicted on himself.  “I forgot?”

“No, I don’t think you knew about this to start with.  There’s no reason why you would have known not to put the
two together.”  

“Frell.”  John’s legs kicked out.  Boot heals squealed across the floor.  “Won’t … next time,” he gasped, and
then belched.  

“Hang on, old man.”  Chiana knelt down alongside the couple, and took one of his hands in her slim gray
fingers.  

“PIP!”  The greeting emerged on an uncontrolled cry, the product of muscles spasms rather than excitement.  
“You ‘kay?”  

“Better than you are.”

John nodded, squeezed his eyes shut as he fought against the pain, and then an involuntary cry was ripped
out of him.  It trailed off into a quiet whine that lingered for several microts before disappearing altogether.  

“Let’s get him back to his quarters,” Aeryn said.  She slid out from under John.  “He’ll be more comfortable there
until this passes.”  She leaned over the quivering body, urging him to sit up.  “Come on, John.  I know you don’t
feel well, but you’ll feel a little better if you’re in bed.”  

He uncurled and let them sit him up, sweating and shivering at the same time.  “How long?” he asked again,
wrapping his arms around his midsection.  

D’Argo’s voice was an emotionally loaded whisper.  “Arns, John.  They gave you hardly any at all, but drexim is
meant for leviathans so even the smallest amount is going to stay in your system for arns.”  D’Argo reached to
push some of the sweat soaked hair off John’s forehead.

“I think I’m going to puke,” Crichton moaned.  

D’Argo moved one long hurried step away from the weaving, gasping human.  “I was about to offer to carry him,
but I think we’ll find another way to get him back to Quarters,” he growled.  Aeryn looked up at him, a mixture of
concern and anger on her face.  D’Argo held up a hand to forestall the obvious objection.  “I was trying to make
a joke, Aeryn.  I’ll need some help getting him up this time though.”  

“Don’t have to carry me,” John said.  “I can wa--”  He belched again, suddenly even paler than he had been
microts earlier.  “I can --”

“Shut up, John,” Aeryn said, cutting him off.  “We know all that dren about not being carried this way.  Live with
it.”  She continued to prop him up, bracing his shaking body against her legs while her hands steadied his
shoulders.  A thought occurred to her.  Something had gone overlooked, smothered beneath the need to
release the stasis field and tend to John’s more immediate needs.  She asked, “How did you get down here?”  

“C-c-c-crawled.”  He worked the word out over the space of two microts.  Every bit of his body was shuddering
against the onslaught of the drug.  “That guy showed me the way.”  He pointed clumsily at where the blue-taped
DRD sat watching the proceedings.  “I think it was Moya.”  He took two long breaths and added more steadily,
“Aeryn, I’m tired of hurting.”  

“I know,” she tried to soothe him.  “We’ll do our best to make you comfortable, but there’s nothing to do except
wait for the drexim to wear off.”  

She gestured to the others and between the three of them they pulled Crichton to his feet, supporting him
completely once they had him upright.  

“Uh oh,” he said once they had him up, and looked panicked.  He swallowed hard several times then
hiccupped.   

“That’s it.  I am not carrying him.”

Aeryn looked across at D’Argo, checking to see if he was still joking.  He wasn’t; he was serious this time.  He
had one of John’s arms slung across his shoulders, and was waiting for Aeryn to take the other side.  

“If I put him over my shoulder now, he will spew,” he said, explaining his change of heart.  

“Def’nitely,” John said.  “Tech’color burp.”

Aeryn slid in under John’s other arm, they wheeled around until they were facing in the direction of Quarters,
and together they began the long trip back through Moya’s tiers.

“Might want to hurry,” John said in a slurred mumble.  He was doing his best to help despite the constant
muscle spasms that were shaking his entire body.  “I don’t feel very good.”  

                                                                              * * * * *

D’Argo walked into Crichton’s quarters one slow cautious step at a time, exerting a maximum effort to move
silently.  He moved past the bunk and eased himself down to sit next to Aeryn and Chiana.  “Is he asleep?” he
whispered.  

The trio turned as one to look at the dark-haired head visible above the golden thermal sheet, listening to the
tiny sighs and quiet hiccupping yelps drifting from the pillow periodically.  

“I think so,” said Aeryn.  “I think he finally drifted off about half an arn ago.”  The body on the bunk opposite
them continued to twitch and jerk from time to time, expending the last of the drexim.  “How are Jool and Rygel?”

“Jool continues to whine about her bruises despite the fact that she did not get hit with a pulse rifle,” he
whispered in disgust.  “But she did agree to go check on Pilot one more time to make sure he is completely
recovered from the weapon’s effects.”  

“And Rygel?” Aeryn prompted.

“He is recovered enough that I would prefer to put him back in a sack,” D’Argo said in a whispered snarl.  
Across the cell Crichton lurched under the covers, let out a sound that might have been a cross between a
burp and a yelp and was still again.     

“How long has it been?” Chiana hissed.  “It feels like frelling days.”  

“It’s been six and a half arns since we got him down here.”  

And it had been another arn before that.  They had not managed to get him to his quarters before the stimulant
had triggered an extended bout of vomiting.  What should have been a short easy trip from the maintenance
bay had been interrupted by a series of stops along the way to let John retch his way through one set of dry
heaves after another while Aeryn, D’Argo, Chiana and a fleet of cleaning DRDs looked on.  He had refused to
let them help him at first, curling into a spasming ball on his side while he gagged out the contents of his
stomach.  The second round of vomiting had put an end to his self-sufficiency when the uncontrollable
shudders nearly tipped him into the small puddle of slime he had brought up.  After that he had allowed
someone hold him, sometimes steadying his head, sometimes doing nothing more than keeping him upright
while he arched and coughed his way through another bout of unproductive retching.

Sitting on Moya’s warm corridor floors with John’s shoulders in her lap, or standing behind him and holding his
upper body as he struggled against seizing muscles to eject what was long gone from his stomach, Aeryn had
felt like she was holding the Crichton of pre-torture days.  Grousing but with humor, complaining about the
situation while acknowledging that he had created it himself, he was as tenacious as ever.

They had finally managed to haul John into his chamber an arn after they set out.  They had arrived on the run
and dumped him hastily in front of the waste funnel just in time for his last and most violent session of vomiting.  
D’Argo and Chiana had abandoned the alcove in a hurry the moment he had begun coughing out tiny streams
of bile and dregs of saliva.  Aeryn had stayed, reflecting with surprise on the discovery that she did not mind
wiping his face, cleaning the tears and mucus away with a wet rag, and steadying his convulsing body.  She did
not mind doing anything as long as it was John Crichton who was alive and leaning helplessly against her lower
legs.

“Finished?” she had asked when there hadn’t been any vomiting for several hundred microts.  At the time, he
had been sitting with his legs beneath him, the drug-induced tremors creating a staccato impact where his back
was leaning against her knees.  

“God, I … hope so,” he had panted.  

With help from D’Argo and Chiana, they had boosted him to his feet, pulled off most of his clothes, and had
gotten him into bed where he would be most comfortable while his body worked out the load of drexim.  There
had not been any more vomiting, but there had been arns of muscles cramps eerily similar to what he had
suffered through on the New Moon of Delvia, chills, and several seizures that had scared her to the point that
she had been on the verge of asking Pilot to find a medical facility.  Nearly eight arns after he had been
injected, Crichton was sleeping at last, so exhausted by the battle against his body that he could barely form
words, let alone conjure up memories.  He had sunk into the same befuddled daze that had marked his first
days of awareness in the delvian sanctuary, placing total trust in her custody when she told him that everything
was all right and he could go to sleep.

D’Argo got up and crept across the chamber to look at John.  He stood for several microts watching the restless
movements, then shook his head and returned to where the two women were sitting.  

“What?” Aeryn whispered.  When D’Argo raised his eyebrows to ask her to clarify, she imitated his headshake.

“He can’t walk, he can’t hold things, he can’t remember anything, but together with a leviathan that can’t
communicate and a gang of DRDs, he manages to save us all from a squad of bounty hunters that captured
the rest of us in three microts flat.”  He began laughing quietly.   

“And we wanted to leave him behind on New Delvia,” Chiana agreed.  

She placed her hand over her mouth to keep herself from laughing out loud then turned to look at Aeryn.  The
ex-soldier was laughing as hard as her two companions.  The stray tears crawling slowly down her face
suggested that she was consumed by a level of mirth never witnessed before, and an instant later Chiana was
suddenly unsure about the source of those tears.  She started to ask Aeryn if she was all right.  The sound of a
fourth voice interrupted her, and the question was gone forever.

“Humans’s superior,” drifted quietly from the bunk.      

“Oh, you didn’t tell him about that!”  Aeryn threw the accusation back at D’Argo as she went to sit on the edge
of the bed.  The relief that John was awake and coherent was overwhelming.  She had spent most of the last
seven arns worrying that the stress put on his body might have triggered a relapse or even permanent
damage.  His comment proved that at least some portion of his memory was intact, as well as his bizarre sense
of humor.  She felt giddy.  An absurd need to giggle pushed against each and every breath, attempting to goad
her into a ridiculous display of happiness.   

Aeryn fought the impulses down.  “Did we wake you?”  

“It is not my fault.  He remembered himself!” D’Argo continued to protest behind her.    

“Nuh.  In and out fer a while,” John said.  He stretched.  It was an aimless, mildly disoriented movement during
which each of his arms and legs seemed to work on their own agenda.  “Liddle cold.  Blanket?”  

Chiana was already headed for the before Aeryn could rise to her feet.  “Stay there,” the nebari said.  “I have a
couple extras in my chamber.”  

D’Argo moved closer to the bunk and watched the slow rise and fall of eyelids as Crichton fought to stay
awake.  “Can we get you anything else?”  

“Nuh.  Id’s better now.  Mos’ly gone.”  He yawned.  The small movement set off a shuddering response
throughout his body.  John ground his teeth together, grunting slightly as his muscles spasmed their way
through another release of the drug overload.  “I just tired now,” he said once the reaction had died away.  

“You’ve been asleep no more than an arn,” she said.  

Chiana hurried in carrying two thick fleecy covers, which they quickly spread over John, tucking them in around
his body and tugging the top edge up around his neck.  He smiled and sighed, then his body seemed to flatten
and melt into the bunk.  

“Gone again,” Aeryn said.  “Thank Cholak that’s over.”  

“At least this way we can stop worrying about Crichton taking care of himself if we get into trouble, and can
concentrate on helping him regain his memory.”  Chiana grinned impishly and left the chamber.  

“Get some sleep, Aeryn.”  D’Argo touched her lightly on the shoulder before leaving the chamber as well.  He
waved a palm over the door sensor on the way out, in apparent contradiction to his final instructions.  

“Get some sleep, Aeryn,” John mumbled.  He opened one eye just long enough to look at her.  “Come on in.”  

She stared at him for several microts after the single eye had closed, waiting to see what else he might have to
say, then smiled and sighed.  She sat down with her back to him long enough to pull off her boots, followed
quickly by her pants and vest.  “Front or back?” she asked over her shoulder as she finished.  

“Fronovme,” John said.

Aeryn sat for several microts, her head cocked to one side, then shook her head slightly.  She turned to look at
John, pushing one lock of hair away from his forehead with a finger.  “My microbes could not decipher that,
John.  Behind you?”  She was guessing he would prefer to curl up and have her warmth enveloping his back.  
He surprised her by shaking his head.  “Front?”  The single word inquiry elicited a slow, exhausted nod.  Aeryn
slid under the blankets and wriggled back against him, helping him lift and move his arms until she was
snuggled in with her back against his chest, his arm over her shoulder.  

“Who’s dose guys?” he mumbled once she had gotten settled.  

“Bounty hunters.”  

“Thanks, I figure that out … for m’self.  Where they from and … who pay them?”  

“We’re not sure on either count.  It was a mixture of species and it sounded like maybe Special Directorate was
offering the reward.”  She turned her head and kissed his arm where it lay across her shoulder.  “I thought I told
you to work on pathetic,” she murmured into his skin.  

“Differ’nt plan,” he mumbled, sounding half asleep.  “M’ya’s plan … How’s Moya and Pilot?  They h’okay?”

“They’re fine now.  Thanks to you crawling to the rescue,” she said.  “I thought I’d begun to figure out how your
mind works, but I will never … ”  A memory struck.  Aeryn went silent.  

“Whatsa matter?” John asked, drowsily attentive when her body remained absolutely still for several microts.  

“Unity,” she said on a long exhalation.  “You used Unity to tell me to get out of the way today.  You did it, John!”  
She shifted in his embrace, craning her neck to look around at him.  Even in the half-light of the darkened
chamber she could see that he was blushing.  “On your own.  Without touching me and without the delvians to
help get our minds together to start.”  

“Un huh,” he agreed, still looking embarrassed at his accomplishment.  “Needed to.  I couldn’t fire … you in the
way.”  They stared at each other for several microts, then he gave her the rest of his confession.  “I need for
you t’ be safe.  Once I find that need, id’s not all tha’ difficult.”  

Aeryn turned her back to him, tugging at his arms to pull his embrace more tightly around her.    

“I love you.”  

The three small words words could not begin convey the flood of emotions that threatened to overwhelm her.  
Their first encounter with Unity had been possible only because of the extent of both John’s and her
desperation and the isolation John had been experiencing while trapped inside his own wrecked psyche.  His
accomplishment in the hangar bay told her of the depth of his love, and that insight was challenging her
confidence that she could return it in full measure.  She had never been loved like this.  No one had treasured
her in this manner, not even the other John, who had not been forced to wait and endure life without her.  

John laid his cheek against the back of her shoulder and sighed.  “Love you,” he said.  He sighed once more, a
long drawn-out inhale and exhale, and then was suddenly asleep again.  

                                                                              * * * * *

“… I don’t want to hurt anymore …”

Aeryn woke with a start, the voice of the other John ringing in her ears.  She stared across the darkened
chamber, the details of her current where and when eluding her for several microts as the nightmare’s last
vestiges faded.  It had not been one of the heart-pounding, scream-inducing nightmares that she had suffered
through after the other Crichton’s death.  Instead, this dream had possessed such an intense degree of reality
that she was having trouble shaking the grief that had flooded over her upon waking.  

She turned over slowly, careful not to wake John now that she remembered where she was and what had
happened earlier that day.  He had rolled on to his stomach at some point, leaving one arm flung across her
shoulders even though he had turned partly away from her.  His fingers were still twitching as the last residue of
drexim was metabolized, resulting in a soft pattering against her shoulder.  She watched him sleep, allowing the
familiar features to drive away the dregs of grief.  

He was tired of hurting.  

John had said it while they were in Unity, he had said it before leaving the New Moon of Delvia, and he had said
it today.  But he continued to persevere despite agonies that no other sentient being had ever survived.  He
continued to fight because of her.  Aeryn worked herself closer to him, trying to move further under his arm
without waking him.  John’s breath caught for a microt, then released on a long sigh.  

“You all right?” he asked.

“I’m fine.”  

He started to tug at her, trying to pull her closer; his returning strength was inadequate to complete the motion.  

“Roll over,” she said.  He started to roll away so he would wind up facing her.  “Other way,” Aeryn said,
arresting the motion.  She sat up long enough to help him tug his arm underneath his body, then pulled his
shoulders around while he concentrated on his hips and legs.  

“Ask me for something difficult the next time.”   

Aeryn reached under the covers to pull one of his legs back into a better position, which allowed his hips and
lower back to relax.  Her effort was greeted by an unintelligible mumble of appreciation.  Then she lay down
behind him and insinuated her arms and legs around him; she pushed one leg between his, and then
completed the envelopment by looping the other leg over both of his.  

“Wha’s goin’ on?”   

“Nothing.  Go back to sleep.”  A part of her had known ahead of time that wrapping herself around him might
alert him to the fact that something was bothering her, but her need to feel him against her had been stronger
than her concern about worrying him.  She hugged him more tightly, and kissed the back of his neck, smelling
the mildly sour tang that testified to the degree of stress his body had recently endured.

“Aeryn?”  He sounded more awake despite the short sentences.  He also sounded exhausted.  But his speech
had improved, which told her that he was recovering despite the enduring fatigue.    

“I love you.”  John started to roll over to face her and she held him still, her strength easily overpowering his
limited capacity.  “That’s all.  I promise.”  

“Dream?”  He tugged her arm further around him, encouraging her to pull herself closer.  

“Um hmm.”  She snugged her hips in tight against him.  She decided to change the subject.  “How do you
feel?”  

“Just tired now.”  He paused.  “That was awful.  And I did it to myself.”  He was laughing.  

“You could not have known.”  She propped her head up on her hand so she could look down at him.  “How can
you laugh about it?”  

“It’s over.  It was kind of an accident and it was for a good reason.  It wasn’t” -- he took a deep breath and let it
out -- “it wasn’t someone else doing it to me intentionally.”  A tear slid down his nose and fell to the pillow.  “I’m a
mess.”  She started to argue; he continued before she could say anything.  “Emotionally, I mean.”  John
laughed again, sounding amused rather than upset, his moods taking another of the huge swings they had
been warned about.

He was more like himself in this moment than he had been at any moment since they had rescued him.  Aeryn
laid back down and hugged him again, feeling the new strength in his arms and shoulders, the growing power in
the body that was fighting day and night to return to normal.  

“No more hurts,” he said.  

“Not for a while.  We’ll do our best.”  

“I don’t want to hurt anymore.”      


                                                                           * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chapter 13                                                                                                                                                                              Chapter 15
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