Cholak's Demon
A Sequel to 'Cloths Of Heaven' and 'Heaven's Gate'
(First posted January 14, 2003)
Rating: PG-13, with an NC-17 Addendum.  
Category:  Alternate Universe.
Disclaimer:  The characters and vision of Farscape belong to Henson, Co.  I’m only playing with them a little bit
in order to keep us all amused.  
Time Frame/Spoilers:  This story takes place two cycles after ‘Dog With Two Bones’.
Beta-Readers:  Scrubschick and Angel.  Once again, they kept me on track.  “Uhhh, Crash?  Why is Aeryn
doing this here?  And this section over here … this doesn’t make any sense.”  You ladies are the greatest.      

Note To The Reader:  If you are new to this continuing saga, please keep in mind that ‘Cloths Of Heaven’ was
written before any of the Season 4 episodes had aired, thus earning it the AU classification.  Since then I’ve
tried to remain consistent with the storyline developed in that first fiction, which means that the series runs
contrary to canon.  If you have not read the two preceding stories, you need to wade through those first.

For those of you who said you wanted to see the reunion when John and Aeryn got back to Moya, this is the
story that cropped up in my brain.  However -- as with all things Farscape -- I’m fairly certain this ISN’T the story
you envisioned.  When the Youses Muses Gang sent someone to tell me the tale, it was David Kemper who
showed up.  You have been warned!

Remember, in this version (unrealized reality, if you will), John never got to Arnessk, so he has not encountered
Commandant Grayza since the Command Carrier (‘Into The Lion’s Den: Lambs To The Slaughter’).  This
‘timeline’ branches off right after ‘Dog With Two Bones’ and I’m drifting further away with each story.

Hope you enjoy it.  

Kernil Crash


*  *  *  *  *

Chapter 1

John Crichton stretched, arching his head back into the pillows until the vertebrae in his neck crackled slightly,
then released all the tension, letting his arms flop loosely over his head.  He opened one eye to view the dark
hair streaming down his ribs, watching Aeryn as she pretended to still be asleep, her head resting on his chest.  
“Wakey, wakey,” he chanted quietly, rolling side to side to jostle her.  The lights had come up automatically,
following the preprogrammed cycle that emulated night and day inside the small spacecraft.    

“Shut up,” she grumbled.  One arm wormed under his back, meeting the other one on the opposite side of his
body so she could hold him still.  “Don’t ruin it.”  

“Rise and shine.  Up and at ‘em.  Let’s get a move on!” he said cheerfully, but he slid both arms around her and
pulled her further onto his body, tucking her head into the corner of his neck.  “Mmm, nice blanket,” he
concluded as she made herself comfortable on top of him.  

“Can I get you a pillow?” she mumbled into his throat.  He rubbed her back for several microts, letting his
fingers bump up and down her spine in a slow cadence.  “Four more days,” she sighed.

“I could reattach the power supply to the rhotarri engines and see where we wind up this time,” he suggested,
watching her at close range.  

“Moya will get tired of waiting for us,” Aeryn countered.  She slid off him, tucking herself alongside his body, and
propped her head up on one hand to watch him.  He smiled back at her, showing no inclination to get out of
bed.  She reached across to scratch at his chin, adding, “And if we get any lower on water, I won’t want to be
this close to you.  You’re starting to smell.”  John laughed as he raised his chin, letting her scratch the
underside of his throat, easing the last of the itching from his lengthening beard.  

“Yeah,” he agreed on a sigh.  “I’m also getting a little tired of the rations.  Guess we gotta head back sooner or
later.”  He glanced at her sideways, examining her look of concentration as she scrubbed at his beard.  “And
you’re not exactly the sweetest smelling rose around either,” he told her.  

There was no reaction to his small taunt.  Aeryn continued to rub his chin, a task she’d taken on only two days
earlier when his own constant scrabbling at the annoyance had driven her to a threat of physical violence.  
They’d reached a compromise.  He’d stop scratching if she did it for him.  John waited, knowing that she
wouldn’t leave the accusation unanswered.  Her fingers wandered back down his jaw, and he tensed his
muscles, suspecting what would happen next.  

“Grrr,” she exclaimed suddenly and grabbed him carefully around the throat with both hands, pretending to
strangle him.  

“Okay, maybe we both need a shower,” he laughed, yanking her on top of him and pulling her down for a kiss.  
“We have a little leeway left with the water supply.  How long is Moya going to wait for you?  Can we maybe take
a wrong turn at the next singularity and get a little lost for an extra day or two?”  

Aeryn ducked down, put her nose against his chest, and gave a small sniff.  “Yes,” she answered, grinning
mischievously.  “They said they’d wait for another --”  She gazed at the wall over his head, taking several
microts to silently tally the days.  “They’ll be there for another nine … no, another eight solar days.”  

“So we could spare a couple more,” John suggested.  Aeryn mumbled what sounded like a ‘yes’ into the side of
his throat.  “Good.  So did you want me to take a bath now?”  He used both hands to gather her hair, twisting it
into a thick tail and then winding it around one hand.      

“In a little while,” she suggested, straddling him with her legs and using both arms to pull herself tighter against
his chest.  “There’s something else we need to do first.”  

“What would that be?” he asked with feigned innocence.  

Aeryn raised herself off him, looking down at him with a quiet smile in place, her hair streaming in loose torrents
over her shoulders.  “I’ll try to explain as we go along,” she answered, and reached to turn down the lights.  

“Oh boy,” John said gleefully in the dark.  

*  *  *  *  *

The fugitive sped down the darkened corridor, the beam from the handlight bouncing wildly but illuminating
enough of the hazards to allow the headlong flight without tripping.  He could hear the footsteps pounding in the
levels above and below him, in some cases landing hard enough to knock showers of dust and dirt out of the
overhead panels.  There was a place he thought they might not know about located at the end of the long
curving corridor.  It wasn’t a room, it was a maintenance crawlway that actually belonged in the level above, but
had sagged down out of place as time and weather had weakened the surrounding structure.  

They had devoted nearly two hundred troops to this operation, enveloping the facility and slaughtering his men
indiscriminately, blasting equipment and ships into smoking ruins, and then spreading out when their initial
search didn’t locate the one person that interested them.  

Him.  

Lights bounced behind him -- glancing off dirt-encrusted walls, dimming as they passed through hanging
translucent panels, wavering in strange patterns as they cut through the tangles of circuitry that hung
everywhere.  He was out of time and out of room, but he tried to reach the hiding space anyway.  If he could get
out of sight, they might pass by him and he could double back.  He ran faster, throwing all caution aside as he
plunged into the darkness, the one small beam of light insufficient to light his way.  

His luck had turned bad recently; he should have known it wasn’t going to get any better tonight.  The corridor
arced further to his left, the warning that he was approaching his destination, and he shone the light across the
wall at waist level, looking for the gap in the paneling.  The decks had begun to collapse here, creating the
hidey-hole in the first place, so he should have been considering the possibility that more of the structure had
dropped away.  But he was desperate, and they were right behind him, so it didn’t occur to him that some of the
floor might be missing until he ran right off the edge.  

His yell of surprise and fear echoed several times, a clear indication that the expanse underneath was
extensive, then he was snatched out of midair by what felt like hundreds of tentacles.  He spared a split-microt
to consider that the Peacekeepers didn’t have any rescue technology resembling this snare, then reverted to a
full blown panic as his fall was broken in a series of snatches and releases.  One of the thin leashes wrapped
itself around his lower leg several times, slithering along his pant leg as it arrested his drop, then it jerked tight
and he came to a spine-snapping stop.  

“Frell,” he moaned, the abrupt deceleration setting off a head-to-toe ache.  He realized belatedly that the
strange arresting gear was actually a massive tangle of wiring sagging out of the upper decks.  He’d been lucky
enough, or perhaps unlucky enough to fall into the snarl, which then slowed his fall.  The trapped runner
quested into the dark beyond his head with both hands, stretching to the limit of his reach seeking a floor, but
found only more space.  He considered freeing his ankle, but if the remaining fall were too far, the drop might
kill him.   

“Frelling buckets of dren,” he grumbled, feeling himself start to twist as he waited, the wiring unwinding as his
weight pulled on it.  “I feel like a drannit hung out to dry.”  Lights flickered somewhere on a deck that was level
with his body, and he knew he was about to be caught.  In the arns since the Peacekeepers had landed, he’d
imagined some undignified ways to get captured, but this one exceeded his wildest visions.  

“Advise the command carrier that we have found him,” a voice boomed.  Helmet lights swayed and bounced as
a group of soldiers made their way toward him, picking their way through piles of debris, the thin beams of light
gradually gathering around him to illuminate his inverted body.  The increasing glow allowed him to see that he
was a mere motra from the floor, an easy drop if he had dared to free his foot.  

“Don’t mind me,” he greeted them.  “I’m just hanging around.”  

The black-clad soldiers didn’t bother answering as they sliced through the last cables, dumping him inelegantly
onto the floor, and then dragged him through the sand clogged corridors of the command carrier wreckage until
they stepped into the moonlit night.  They moved faster then, hauling him along between them at a fast trot,
headed unerringly toward the glow of the burning repair facility.  A cluster of figures was silhouetted against the
jumping flames, and the group headed straight for them, drawing up in a rush and flinging him into the dirt at
someone’s feet.  

Gallenn spat out grit, rolled over and sat up, dusting off his palms.  “No need for the rough stuff.  I would have
invited you in for raslak if you’d just asked nicely.”  

“Get up,” one of the helmeted guards ordered him, prodding with a pulse rifle.  

Gallenn looked over his shoulder at the individual, noting the heavy armor over the ubiquitous black uniform
and considered the female voice that had issued the order.  “Rush, rush, rush,” he chanted, pushing himself to
his feet.  “What are you doing after duty tonight, babe?” he asked the helmeted guard, and found himself back
in the sand, spitting out blood from a bitten tongue.  “Wrong pick-up line.  I always told him that one wouldn’t
work,” he fumbled past the injury.  

“Get him up,” a different female voice ordered, this one creepily smooth -- too silky and unemotional to belong
to a Peacekeeper.  Gallenn was yanked back to his feet and turned to face the new arrival.  

“I am Commandant Mele-On Grayza, and I am going to make this very simple,” she said, stepping closer.  Pale
blue eyes stared into his, and he felt his stomach tighten with dread for the first time despite everything that
had happened that night.  “Tell me where I can find John Crichton.”  

“I don’t know --”  

She cut him off by grabbing his jaw, fingers digging in deep as she stepped closer, her face mere denches
away from his.  “We know he was here, we know he worked for you, we know about the new drive system.  What
we don’t know is where he has gone.  That is the part that you are going to tell us.”  Grayza released him and
stepped back, waiting for his response.  

Gallenn licked his lips nervously, tasting the blood from the ragged cuts inside his mouth.  He glanced around
at the black uniforms, the weapons, and the movement beyond them as the squads formed up and began
boarding their transports.  They’d gotten what they came for, and they obviously knew that the other person
they were hunting wasn’t here.  He wondered who on this planet had sold the information to the Peacekeepers.  
He reconsidered that possibility when he remembered that if John’s friend, Aeryn Sun, had tracked him here,
that it meant the Peacekeepers could have followed the same set of clues.

He tried to back away a step as the cold-eyed officer held something up in front of his eyes, the fast flash in the
light from the fires looking like a weapon slicing toward him.  A muzzle against his spine stopped his retreat, but
it was only a data chip with Peacekeeper markings.  “This carries a legal contract transferring half of this now
unprofitable business to your ownership,” she informed him.  “The name of the other person is unfamiliar, but
the traces of DNA on the surface of the chip are unmistakably John Crichton’s.  Where has he gone?” she
demanded.    

“Don’t know this Jann Kreiten,” he returned, trying to distort the name as though it were unfamiliar.  He’d known
that John was running from someone, but no one he’d ever encountered in all of his sometimes shady dealings
had ever managed to attract the attention of an entire command carrier full of Peacekeepers.  It seemed that
his friend had managed to get himself into some seriously deep dren.   

“I will not waste time with this foolishness,” Grayza announced when he offered nothing else.  “Bring him.  
Contact the carrier and have them prepare the Aurora Chair.”  

*  *  *  *  *

“Moya’s not here,” John said, not especially bothered by the leviathan’s absence in light of the extra eight days
it had taken to reach the agreed upon spot.  “Did you have a secondary meeting place?”  He leaned his head
on his hand and watched as Aeryn ran the sensor scans one more time, searching for any trace of the missing
ship.  

“They should have waited another two days.  We set up some other options, but there isn’t another rendezvous
for another twelve solar days.  Pilot agreed to set a message beacon adrift here if they left.  I can’t find it.”  She
shifted the sensor settings and started over, looking for a smaller biomechanoid signature this time.  

“How long can Moya’s beacons last without coming in contact with her?” John asked, thinking that he should
remember himself.  Aeryn glanced at him, her expression saying the same thing, and he shrugged.  “It has
been two cycles, Aeryn.  Cut me some slack.”  

She searched his face for several microts before replying, “It should have held up for five or six solar days.  
The energy charge would go first --”

“And then the biological construct would start to break down because it hasn’t been in contact with Moya,” he
finished, nodding as the information emerged from his memory.  “Would we be able to pick up the residue if it
disintegrated?”  

“I’m more concerned by the fact that they left early.  The …”  Aeryn leaned closer to the readouts, peering at
an anomaly in the returns.  “There it is, but it’s out of place.  It’s at the far end of the planet’s orbital path.”  John
looked over her shoulder at her readout and then adjusted the ship’s controls, heading for the point she was
indicating.  The ship arced away from the course that had been taking it closer to the nondescript planet where
she’d agreed to meet Moya, veering toward the far side of the solar system.  

“Maybe they didn’t set it right and it fell behind as the planet moved,” he suggested, trying to come up with a
reason for the misplaced beacon.  

“We’ll know in a microt,” Aeryn answered, still working at the sensor console.  “It’s still powered.  I should be
able to get a signal.”  

John watched the slim fingers dancing on the panel, deftly altering their receivers and adjusting the outgoing
pulse that would activate the recorded message.  There had been a time when Aeryn would have sneered at
performing a technical task of that sort, her ability to adapt and learn buried under the cycles of mindless
training.  She glanced at him as the silence lengthened, catching his gaze with her own.  “You’re good at that,”
he observed.  He enjoyed watching her no matter what she did.  

Aeryn spared a hand to cup his jaw, slowly stroking one cheekbone with her thumb.  “I’ve missed you so much,”
she whispered, her smile struggling against a sudden glistening of tears.  

John caught the hand and turned into the grasp, lightly kissing her palm.  “Get back to work, woman.  I want a
shower and a shave.”  Aeryn let the hand linger another microt, then went back to her task.  “It’s going to be
odd,” he added a moment later, gazing out the forward view screen.  

“Being aboard Moya again?”  He nodded, counting on her peripheral vision to pick up the motion.  “Got it,” she
announced triumphantly.  “Let’s see where they’ve gone.”  

“Aeryn … if you … this …”  The transmission crackled and hissed, breaking into unintelligible fragments.  
“Frell,” she muttered.  “Let me try again.”  

D’Argo’s voice boomed out of the speakers and she reached to turn the volume down.  “Aeryn, if you get this
message … RUN!  There’s a command carrier entering the system.  It hasn’t come after us yet, but we’ve
hidden on the far side of the outer planet.  Get out of there, Aeryn!  They’re going into orbit on the dark side
of --”

John slammed the throttles open and veered the small craft away from the beacon, hands cradling the controls
with tender attention, nudging the already screaming engines as though he could get more power out of them.  

“--the third planet,” D’Argo’s recording continued, and Aeryn leaned across John’s shoulders to reach the right
side of his panel, reconfiguring the nav displays to show the relative positions of the planets.  

“There,” she pointed to the outer planet, helping him find his trajectory.  The small craft spun and rolled,
headed toward where they hoped they would find Moya.  The recording finished with another plea for them to
escape, and began to repeat itself.  Aeryn leaned to her left and slapped a switch, shutting the noise off.  
“Maximum velocity?”

“Hetch seven,” he snapped.  “I wasn’t lying about that part.  Check for the carrier.”  

“No sign of it yet.  No smaller craft, no patrols.”  Aeryn licked her lips nervously, leaning toward John with one
hand on his shoulder as the stars crawled with painful slowness across the screen.  “How long to get to the
outer planet?” she asked.  

He looked down, made an adjustment.  “An arn on the best trajectory, a quarter arn more to come in behind it
at the right angle … assuming Moya’s back there.”  John glanced at her several times, shifting just his eyes.  
“Aeryn …”  He shook his head, asking her to dismiss his aborted statement.  

“John, if you’ve got something on your mind, this is the wrong moment to hold back,” she warned him.  

“It’s been a long time since I had these folks on my ass, Aeryn.  I’m not sure I can stand doing this again.”  He
nudged the power controls again, a futile motion that appeared to be more a nervous reaction than an actual
attempt to increase their speed.  “Running was tough, but it wasn’t nearly as bad as getting caught.”  

“We haven’t been caught yet.  D’Argo may have given us the margin we …”  A screen in front of her began
blinking.  “Here they come,” she announced.  “Twelve Prowlers.  The carrier is emerging from behind the
planet.  They’ve seen us.”  

“Twelve Prowlers?” John repeated, his voice rising to a near shout.  “Don’t these people understand the
concept of overkill?  How long before they reach us?”  

“Prowlers in just under three hundred microts, the carrier will take less than half an arn to catch us.”  She
punched a circuit on the communications panel.  “D’Argo?  Pilot?”  

“Aeryn!” D’Argo’s voice answered immediately.  “Did you get away?  Pilot tried to place the beacon to draw you
away from them.”  

“No, we didn’t.  We can’t get to you in time.  Get out of here.”  She checked to her right.  John was nodding,
agreeing with her advice.  

“You said ‘we’?” Chiana’s voice drowned out D’Argo’s.  

“Yes.  John is with me,” she informed them, the admission bringing a lump to her throat.  “I found him.”   

“Hey, Crichton,” Chiana greeted him.  “We’ve missed you.”  

“Missed you too, Pip,” he transmitted back.  “Guys, I hate to greet and run, but get the hell out of here.  They’ve
got us for sure.  Pilot, Moya, I’m sorry I won’t get to see you again, but starburst out of here before they decide
to send some ships after you.”  

“John,” D’Argo’s voice growled over the communications channel.  “We’ll come to get you.  If Aeryn docks
manually perhaps Moya can starburst in time.”   

“We’re too far away, and there are too many of them.  Get to safety,” Aeryn interjected, confirming John’s
decision.  “D’Argo, if by some chance we manage to get free, we’ll head for one of the other meet points.”  

“Sorry I took so long getting back here, big guy,” John called.  Aeryn’s panel began beeping, the alarm
increasing its cadence as the displayed targets drew closer.  “Uh, we got to go folks.  Our visitors are going to
be knocking on the door in just a bit.”  

“John, Aeryn …” D’Argo tried one last time.  

“We know, D’Argo.  Now get out of here.”  Aeryn punched the circuit and the cockpit was quiet except for the
rhythmic chirp of the muted alarm.  “Rhotarri drive?” she suggested into the almost silence.  

“I ripped the wiring right out when I connected the hetch drive,” he reminded her.  “I’m a frelling idiot!” John
barked, banging his fist against the console.  If I had built that circuitry correctly we wouldn’t be in this jam.”    

“No one could have foreseen this,” Aeryn chided gently.  “You thought you were never leaving that planet.”  
The frequency of the alarm was increasing, shifting into an almost constant wail.    

“Can you shut that thing off?  We know they’re coming,” John snapped at her.  The sound stopped.  “Sorry.”  

“It’s all right,” she forgave him.  “The Prowlers will catch us in a little under two hundred microts.  They’re
signaling.  Come to a stop, do not power our weapons, prepare to be taken aboard the command carrier …”  

“Blah, blah, blah,” John finished.  “Same old Peacekeeper dren.  Any reason to keep running?”  She shook her
head, and he pulled the throttles back.  “Save getting blasted to bits before they take us aboard.  How long for
the carrier to get here now that we’ve stopped?”  Aeryn leaned to the left so he could look past her.  “Real
quick,” he determined.  John swiveled his chair to face her, taking both her hands in his and leaning forward to
rest his forehead against hers.   

“We’ll find a way out of this,” she assured him.  “We always have in the past.  We can do it again.”  

John shook his head, rocking it against hers.  “Yes, we can, John.”  

“No one has ever gotten their hands on me and you at the same time, Aeryn.  If they want all the goodies, all
they have to do is threaten you and I’ll give them everything they want.  Everything.  It’s still inside my head.”  
He ran a lock of her hair through his fingers.  

“What are you thinking of doing?” she demanded, recognizing the look on his face.  He dropped his head to
stare at the floor.  “No.”  

“I’ll space myself.  At least that way you’ll have a chance, Aeryn.  Maybe you can convince them --”  

“No.  Absolutely not.  We’ll find another way.”  She pulled out of his grasp and began pacing around the
cockpit, examining every bit of equipment for options.  “If only your suit had a heater, we could set you adrift
and have D’Argo pick you up.”  

“We could try it,” he agreed willingly.  “I’ve survived worse.”  She was already shaking her head though.  “All
right, I’d freeze to death before they get to me, but how about you?  Sebaceans can stand more than humans.”  
John’s voice began rising in desperation.  “Aeryn, I can handle them getting me as long as they don’t have
you.  Maybe we could hide you so … What?”  

“I’m the frelling idiot,” she proclaimed, already ducking out of the cockpit.  John glanced at the screens, noting
that the command carrier was almost within range.  They had three or four hundred microts left at best before
they were pulled inside one of its vast hangars.  He watched the small specks representing the Prowlers spin
around their position for several microts, then reached down and slowly snapped the power supply off.  The
console’s readouts blinked once before fading out.  

“What’s your idea?” he asked Aeryn, stepping through the hatch and sliding past the door to the living
quarters.  She was rummaging frantically through her gear bags, much of her clothing already strewn across
the floor.  He sat down on the edge of the bed, watching with growing curiosity as she continued to search
through the jumble of gear.    

“I’m sure I brought it with me,” she muttered, up to her elbows in the bag.  A look of triumph replaced the
tension and she pulled a flimsy black garment out of the bottom of the disorder.  “Do you have a knife of any
type?” she asked, sliding her feet, boots and all, into the legs of the piece of clothing.  John shook his head, still
baffled by her excitement.  “I’ll have to get one on my own,” she concluded.

“Pulse pistol,” he offered.  

The blue-gray eyes gleamed with amusement.  “I have one,” she reminded him.  John ducked his head in
embarrassment, watching as she pulled the odd coverall over the holstered weapon.  “I’m going to need
something quieter,” she explained.  

Aeryn shrugged her arms into the shimmering cloth, tugged it over her shoulders, and began fastening the
front.  Now that it was on, he could see that there was a hood and another flap that he thought might fasten
across the face.  It was an all inclusive, full-body suit.  “Aeryn, what are you planning?” John asked.  He
reached to finger the cloth, making sure that it wasn’t some new type of spacesuit.  The fabric slid greasily
between his fingers, with a metallic whisper that he hadn’t expected.  “What’s your plan?”  

She went down on her knees in front of where he was sitting on the bed.  “You’re going to have to trust me,
John.  We’ve only had nine days together.  Can you trust me?”  He nodded, frowning slightly at the intensity in
her voice.  “I’m going to disappear.  This is a stealth suit.”  

“For assassination,” he suggested.

“Covert operations and reconnaissance,” she countered.  “The Peacekeepers don’t have this technology so
they may not expect this.”  Aeryn got up, moving to sit next to him, pressing against him shoulder to shoulder
during their last few microts together.  “We don’t know who is aboard that carrier, but I’m going to assume it isn’t
going to be easy for you.  You hang on no matter what.”  

He nodded, staring down at his hands.  

“John, you have to believe this.  No matter what happens I will not abandon you aboard that ship.  Don’t let
them convince you that it’s hopeless.  Until you see my body, unless they drag my dead body in front of you,
you keep believing that I’m going to get you out.  I don’t care what they do to you, don’t you stop believing that
I’m aboard that ship somewhere working to get you free.  Can you do that?”  

John’s head came up during her plea, watching her eyes as she finished the assurances, his look of
desperation replaced by something more confident, something more certain.  “I can do that, Aeryn.”  The small
ship lurched, throwing them against each other.  John hugged her fiercely.  “You stay safe while you’re
creeping around,” he told her, burying his face in her hair for several microts.  

“Don’t you forget what I told you,” she responded, then pulled away slowly, giving him time to let go of her.  “We
don’t have much time.”  

“Not enough for a quickie, hunh?” he kidded, the strain of the moment leaching his small joke of all humor.   He
straightened up and looked around the living quarters.  “We’d better do something about your stuff.  Wouldn’t
want the Peacekeepers thinking I’m a cross dresser.”  They knelt together, hurriedly shoving her clothing back
into the two gear bags and fastening them shut.  

“Where?” she asked succinctly.  “If we jettison them, they’ll pick it up on their scans.”    

“Inside the engine nacelles.  They may find them eventually, but it’ll give you a head start.”  

John grabbed both bags and shuffled into the rear of the cargo area.  The ship settled with an ominous
creaking just as he finished securing the inner panel back into place.  When he turned, Aeryn was standing
behind him, the hood in place but the mask hanging to one side.  She looked down for a moment, fiddling with
something at her waist, and then everything disappeared except her face.  

“Any idea how you’re going to do this?” he asked.  Fear uncurled in his stomach, expanding with an implied
promise that it would take up permanent residence there.  

“The less you know the better.”  Aeryn’s disembodied face floated closer, the dark eyes wide with her concern
for him.  A ghostly hand touched his cheek, slid behind his head to pull him toward her, and then she kissed
him.  “Don’t be stupid, don’t be a hero.  Just hang on.  It may take several days.”  She stared into his eyes.  “I
love you.”  

“I love you,” John whispered back.  The cockpit hatch groaned as it was opened from the outside.  “Time for
you to disappear,” he ordered.  “I’ll go welcome the guests.”  She let go of him as he glanced toward the front of
the craft and when he looked back Aeryn was gone.  “Be safe.”  

“Be strong,” the muffled voice emanated out of thin air.  


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