Tough Love
(First posted July 24, 2003)
Other stories in this series:  
Once Upon A Microt, Birthright, Guy Stuff, and Ruminations
Rating:  PG  
Disclaimer:  Not mine, no profit.
Spoilers:  Several very small ones for ‘Die Me, Dichotomy’, ‘Season Of Death’, and ‘Prayer’.  
Beta-readers:  Scrubschick.  She’s the one with children, so her participation was crucial this time around.  
Her input and insight are always invaluable, whether  the story is ‘offspring related’ or not.  Scrubs gets a
disclaimer of her own this time:  there are several points in this story that should have been changed
completely or at least revised and I decided against doing a rewrite.  If something seems ‘off’, it’s not her
fault.     

Note to the reader:  If you check the dates that this story and the one before it were posted, you'll see that it
had been quite a while since I had posted a fic.  Like so many of the other fanfic writers, I was seeing darn little
of the Muses at that point in time.  So perhaps you’ll understand how excited I was when the Youses Muses
Gang busted down my door one afternoon, told me about this particular event, and insisted that I write the
story.  

This is an offshoot from 'Birthright'.  ‘Tough Love’ should stand up pretty well on its own, but it might work a little
better for you if you read ‘Birthright’ first.  (It’s kind of long, so I’ll understand if you don’t want to read it.)  I
wanted to include a fast version of this story in ‘Birthright’ (we’re talking a two or three paragraph memory from
Aeryn’s perspective), only it refused to fit in anywhere.  It had been brewing in the back of my mind ever since,
and finally demanded to be let out.  

There is a very brief remark about a bedtime story in this tale.  I was having fun, so it’s actually making
reference to 'Once Upon A Microt', the first of the 'Ian' stories.  

Hope you enjoy it.


*  *  *  *  *

Part 1

John Crichton gripped the edge of a console to steady himself as all of Command took a two-motra hop to one
side.  He glanced at Aeryn and shook his head.  “They’re down,” he said.  The lurch meant that a ship had just
landed on Moya’s hull.  Its grapples would be digging into the gentle beast’s skin, the first and least savage of
the assaults they were expecting from the enemy ship’s passengers.  

“Pilot?  How is Moya?” Aeryn asked the semi-transparent figure in the clamshell.   

“There has been some minor damage to her outer hull, but she is otherwise unharmed,” he replied, sounding
only slightly harried.  

“Ian?” John called to their young son over his comms.  “Where are you?”  

“Near Quarters.  Hey, Dad?  Moya just did something really funny.”  The energetic voice sounded amused by
the leviathan’s antics, no hint of alarm in the tone.  

“I hate this.  I hate doing this,” Aeryn whispered in the background.  

John flattened his hand his over his comms badge to prevent his next comment from being transmitted.  
“Options?”

“None.  Do it.”  Aeryn rested both hands on the other console and hung her head, slowly shaking it in useless
denial of what they were about to do.  

“Ian … Scuttle,” John ordered.  

It sounded so innocuous.  But the otherwise innocent word was a code for an emergency procedure they’d
trained Ian to obey without question.  They’d practiced the drill dozens, perhaps hundreds of times over their
son’s short lifetime, until they were certain he would comply without hesitation or deviation from the established
sequence.  

By this time, Ian would be crawling into the first DRD maintenance hatch he could find.  He would wait out of
sight of the corridor until a DRD appeared to lead him to a small enclosure not too far from Command but deep
inside Moya’s internal spaces.  It was shielded from every type of scan they could think of, and was equipped
with a small bed, duplicates of several of his favorite toys, food and water for ten solar days, and no
communications of any sort.  Ian had named it ‘Treasure Island’ in one of his confusing twists of imagination,
and had played there quite happily for over eight arns the last time they tested the system.

“Pilot?” Aeryn asked at the same time that John was comming D’Argo.  

“In progress with ten,” Pilot answered.  

“All set,” D’Argo responded to John’s query.  

The two equally cryptic answers told them all they needed to know at this point.  Pilot’s code meant that Ian had
been met by a squadron of ten DRDs that would protect and watch over him, and was on his way to the hidden
chamber.  Depending on how bad the situation became, the number of small, robotic guardians would increase
to as many as forty.  If everything was running on schedule, a high-energy pulse generated by Pilot had
already disabled his comms.  Cut off from all communications, their eight-cycle old son could not be lured out of
his hiding place by deception or threats of harm to his parents, and there was no way for an intruder to locate
him.  As long as Moya survived, so would he.  

“D’Argo’s hidden,” John repeated for Aeryn’s benefit.  

Lo’La was cloaked and hovering less than five motras from Moya’s hull where he could get aboard in a matter
of microts, and would be sucked along with the leviathan if she were forced to starburst.  At first D’Argo had
adamantly refused to ‘cower’ in the cloaked ship, as he had phrased it.  The argument had raged for precious
microts that they couldn’t spare.  John had turned away for two microts to confer with Pilot about the unknown
attackers, and when he returned to the discussion, Aeryn had convinced D’Argo to wait outside Moya.  He
made a mental note to ask her later how she’d managed it so quickly, then dismissed the anomaly in the
interest of preparing for the impending fight.  

“Let’s go,” Aeryn said.  “Time for fun and games.”  They left Command on the run, headed for where they had
already agreed to create the first ambush.  

“Pilot?  What have we got?”  John yelled.  

Barely a quarter of an arn earlier, Pilot had reported the sudden appearance of a Coreshi ship on the short-
range sensors.  Their attackers hadn’t revealed themselves until it was too late for Moya to run, hide, or
starburst.  It suggested that the Coreshi had gotten their hands on the cloaking technology that the Scarrans
had acquired when they overran luxan space four cycles earlier.  

“Ten life forms, definitely not Coreshi.  Their lifesigns are somewhat atypical, but they appear to be Scarran,”
Pilot reported.  “One is remaining aboard their ship.  Nine have already boarded Moya.”  

“Frell, frell, frell, frell,” John chanted.  He skidded to a stop and reversed course, nearly barreling into Aeryn
who had changed direction faster than he had.  “Bigger weapons.  Big honkin’ weapons.”  Trying to stop
Coreshi was bad; Scarrans were worse.  

“Pilot, where’s Noranti?” Aeryn asked.  The pair accelerated toward the locked cell where they kept the
weapons safe from Ian’s inquisitive little hands.  

“Unknown.  She was last observed in one of the maintenance tunnels, heading toward Tier Zero.”  

The last portion of his transmission was another of their precautions.  Everyone on board had agreed that in an
emergency of this sort, no one would mention the existence of a small child aboard Moya, or even hint of
‘Treasure Island’ -- especially not over a comms channel that might not be secure from eavesdroppers.  Tier
Zero was their code for the shielded chamber, and Pilot had let them know that Noranti’s life signs might be
detected until she reached Ian.   

“I will kill her myself!” Aeryn yelled in anger.  “We have told her and told her not to go near there.”  No matter
how many times they assured her that Ian was being cared for by the DRDs, the old Traskan insisted on
accompanying him into his hideaway.  

“You’ll have to beat me to it,” John said, sounding equally furious.  “I want first shot at Granny if she frells this
up.”

They ran side by side through the gleaming corridors, trying to reach the heavy weapons before they were cut
off by the invaders.  

A fast discussion in the first microts after the Coreshi ship had appeared had summarized the bad news.  
Whoever had boarded Moya had chosen a moment when most of the crew was absent.  Chiana had gone with
Nerri and his new wife, Hendlah, to see how many members of the decimated Nebari Resistance they could
locate and spirit away to safety.  Rygel had departed for Hyneria only three solar days earlier, accompanied by
a personal guard of more than one thousand loyalists intent on restoring him to the throne.  The remaining four
members of their growing crew were on a supply run.  John, Aeryn, D’Argo and Noranti were all that remained
aboard to fight off the intruders.  

Even worse, the timing meant that their unwanted visitors had probably been following them undetected for
some time -- possibly for days -- and that, in turn, meant that they might already know about the youngest
member of the crew.  They would have to wait to find out if the Coreshi ship’s sensors were good enough to
track Ian as far as the shielded room.

They’d scrambled to get Lo’La launched in time to destroy the approaching ship, missing their opportunity by a
matter of microts.  D’Argo could destroy the ship crouched on Moya’s hull without so much as scratching her
outer skin, but Aeryn had pointed out that if the nine intruders lost their transportation, they would be even
more intent on getting control of the leviathan.  Lo’La’s weaponry was being held in reserve.

John had wanted Aeryn to be the one outside Moya, waiting where it was safer, but D’Argo had been closer to
the hangar bay in those first frantic moments, and unlike the aging Prowler, Lo’La could be hidden.  

“I frelling hate Scarrans,” John announced.  They were one tier and twenty motras away from the massive,
shoulder-slung cannons that had enough fire power to stop one of the scaled creatures.  He thought about
facing as many as nine of the nearly indestructible Scarrans with only Aeryn beside him.  

“D’Argo was right.  We need him inside,” John said abruptly.  The prospect of Aeryn getting captured by
Scarrans for the second time in her life was creating an uncomfortable tightness in his chest, and increasing a
pre-existing breathlessness.   

“Shut up and run,” Aeryn commanded.  Her sharply delivered order said that the subject was closed.  They
turned the corner together and sprinted toward a vertical shaft leading to the next lowest tier.  

“You first,” John said, motioning for Aeryn to lead the way.  

“So I can get shot from below.”  Despite her retort, she swung lithely onto the oval-holed ladder and
disappeared from sight in a fast, hissing slide.   

“Something soft to land on.  I always frell this up.”  Despite all his cycles aboard Moya, he hadn’t mastered her
method of pressing his hands and feet against the outer edges and using the friction to control his speed.  This
time he made it halfway down before one foot slipped off the smooth side of the construct.  John yelped as he
tilted to one side, let out a warning cry as his other foot flew loose, and fell the last two motras.  “Crap!”  

He bounded to his feet, intending to go after Aeryn.  One large hand swung in from the edge of his vision,
clouted him on the side of the head, and the last thing he saw as he went flying across the unusually crowded
corridor was Aeryn on her knees, surrounded by several armed Scarrans.  

*  *  *  *  *

A blow from one of the guards knocked Crichton stumbling across Command.  He was still fighting to regain his
balance when his hip caught the edge of the Strategy Table.  The force of the impact flipped him over several
times before he crashed to the floor on the far side in a tangle of arms and legs.  John lay where he landed for
several microts, spat out a mouthful of bloody saliva, and tried to get his aching head to function.  There was
something wrong with what was going on, but between his concern that the Scarrans might locate Ian, the
headache that was making an effort to melt his skull, and the sight of Aeryn standing defiantly in the midst of
three heat-producing Scarrans, he could barely form a coherent thought.  

The takeover had been quick and well executed.  One warrior was on guard in the Den, providing an additional
threat of killing Pilot, and another was in the only open hangar bay in case the transport pod returned early.  
The remaining seven had gathered in Command, raising the temperature to a sweat-popping level that John
feared was challenging Aeryn’s capacity to tolerate heat.  

They were trying to find the one item aboard Moya that would, without question, force him into finally giving up
the secrets of wormholes.  It had been a long and dangerous thirteen cycles since the knowledge had been
implanted in his brain, and throughout every encounter he’d managed to keep the horrors of a wormhole
weapon from being unleashed on the universe.  The Scarrans were getting desperate though; this attack was
clear proof.  Between the destruction of their crystherium facilities, and a completely unexpected alliance
between the Peacekeepers, the Nebari, and the Sheyang, the Scarran Empire was facing destruction.  Unless
they got their clawed hands on an unstoppable weapon, and did it soon, they would be forced to surrender
within a cycle.  

Two of their captors came to get him.  Getting pulled to his feet and hauled back across Command to stand
next to Aeryn gave John a brief moment to think.  They’d tried their heat ray on him, knocked both him and
Aeryn around a bit, and were nothing like the focused, ruthless interrogators he’d come to expect from
Scarrans.  

The seven individuals crowding Command were all of the ruling elite and yet they all wore the armor and close
fitting helmets of the dim-witted warrior caste.  Their attack had been well planned and executed, and now that
they had their prisoners, they had become inept.  Crichton’s sense that something was peculiar about the
group increased.  

“They’re not very good at this, are they?” he asked Aeryn.  His mocking tone was designed to sound as though
he was ridiculing their guards, but he was asking her for some input.  The answer was there; he could feel it.  
He only needed a little help finding it.   

“Headed back down the evolutionary chain a bit faster than I’d expected,” she agreed.  

“Tell us where he is,” insisted Grisvolk, the leader of the squad.  “We know your offspring is on board.”  

“Get frelled,” John said.  He was trying impudence simply to see what would happen.  Although it was
dangerous, it was one way to test their reactions.  

Deep-set black eyes glared at him; then the head swung back and forth between them several times, clearly at
a loss.  It was as though the planning for the mission had only covered certain possibilities, and anything
outside that prepared script mystified them.  John began to wonder if Aeryn was correct and their devolution
was progressing faster than nature normally demanded.  

“Kill him!” Grisvolk ordered.  “Then she will tell us where the child is located.”  

“You’re an idiot!” Aeryn exclaimed, using the same mocking tone as John.  “He’s the one you want!  If you don’t
have him, you don’t need the child because I can’t tell you anything about wormholes.”  

“Kill her!” the leader tried again.  

“Think again, Gridlock!” John misaddressed the Scarran.  “You think I’m going to tell you anything if you kill the
mother of my child?  She’s my Eve, the bearer of the fruit of my loins, the Bonnie to my Clyde, the sweet Nell to
my Dudley Do-right.  Kill her and you get diddly squat, nothing, nada, zip, zero, zilch.”  He flicked a trickle of
blood away from his upper lip with a thumb, crossed his arms, and glared at the hulking Scarran.  

The perplexed officer shook his head, snarled, and extended his hand toward the pair.  Too late, Crichton
realized he’d overdone it -- as usual.  The heat lashed out toward both of them.  It might burn him, but it would
certainly drive Aeryn into heat delirium.  

“NO!” he yelled.  Instead of pushing Aeryn out of the way, which the other guards might prevent, he lunged
forward and grabbed at the clawed, extended hand, bellowing out his pain as he shoved it to one side.  The
skin on his hands singed, blistered, and wept fluid in a matter of microts.  

Time slowed as the painful struggle to keep Grisvolk’s hand from aiming at Aeryn continued for too long.  
Behind him, Aeryn was yelling his name.  His wrists began to blister, the misery crawled up his forearms, and
yet he hung on to the massive wrist, pushing it aside with what seemed like too little effort.  A Scarran growled a
warning.  His world became the sickening agony of overheated flesh, a weapon fired, and he was shoved out of
the way to stumble and fall to the deck, burned hands sliding a trail of fluid across Moya’s burnished deck
plates.  

“You idiot.”  Aeryn was beside him, helping him turn over.  “You frelling idiot.”  

“What happened?  Why did he stop?”  

“Noranti.  She snuck out of the crawlspace while they were watching you.  She was the one who pushed you out
of the way.”  Aeryn gestured to one side with an elbow; both of her hands were occupied with helping him sit
up.  Five of the Scarrans were examining the sprawled body while the other two kept their weapons trained on
John and Aeryn.  

“Dead?” he asked.  Aeryn nodded.  “I didn’t really want her dead.”

“Neither did I,” she agreed.       

Deprived of its frequently misdirected vitality, the spindly body had performed the death-trick of shrinking inside
its clothes.  There was a spill of snarled gray hair, one hand with its palm upturned holding a bit of fur, and a
loose mass of clothing.  None of the pieces seemed to suggest that there had once been a wrinkled, cheerful
old woman living within.  

There had been plenty of times over the cycles when he’d been ready to pitch her out an airlock in the hope
that it would stop her prattling or at least remove her unwashed stench from Moya, but he’d also come to
respect her wisdom.  More importantly, she had loved Ian without qualification.  This moment had almost
certainly occurred because Noranti had been trying to save their child from the heartbreak of losing one or both
of his parents.  

“That’s Ian’s fluffy,” John agonized, recognizing the stuffed animal in Noranti’s gnarled hand.  Ian had stopped
sleeping with the amorphous bit of fur two cycles ago, but he’d transferred it to ‘Treasure Island’ on his own,
apparently deriving comfort from the familiar, inanimate companion.  “They’ll find him.”      

“They didn’t see where she came from,” Aeryn assured him.  “John, there’s something wrong with these
Scarrans.  They’re morons.  They were going to shoot you.”  John’s knowledge was the entire purpose for the
boarding party.  No well-prepared group would risk killing him.  

He shrugged.  “They’re still dangerous, and even if we get to our pistols, they’re impervious to pulse weapons.”  
Their pistols and comms were on the far side of Command, tossed into an untidy heap.  Assuming they could
get to them, it would take critical microts to pull a single pistol loose from the tangle of holsters and belts.  John
wrapped a forearm around Aeryn’s shoulders, and used her support to get to his feet.  “Even if they’re
brainless Scarrans, they’re still Scarrans.”  

It hit him.  He knew why they were acting so strangely.  “I’ve got it” he whispered into her ear, pulling her close.  
“Aeryn, these bozos, they’re …”

“Bring the woman!” Grisvolk ordered before he could finish.  Two of the armor-clad troopers dragged her away
while two more kept John from going after her.  She was hauled across Command to stand before Grisvolk,
sweat beginning to stream as the heat-intense bodies surrounded her.  “This one is Sebacean.  That one is
not,” the officer reasoned slowly.  “He attempted to sacrifice himself to keep her safe.”  

John tried to move closer.  He was shoved back, and at a motion from Grisvolk forced to his knees.  

“Tell us where the child hides,” he was ordered.  

“Screw you, Gridlock,” John snapped.  The remaining two Scarrans closed in around Aeryn and she seemed to
slip, the finely conditioned soldier’s body losing its balance for no reason.  She struggled upright and it
happened again.  It was the first sign of heat delirium.  It hadn’t happened very often, but he’d seen the
symptoms too many times over their cycles together.  She was already flushed, and had crossed her arms in
front of her to hide her trembling hands.  

“The Living Death,” Grisvolk said.  

The three words were all he needed to say.  John tried to swallow against a suddenly dry mouth and nearly
choked.  Breathing was suspended for several microts until he got the muscles in his throat rearranged.  “I
won’t trade my son for her.”  The attempt to sound forceful was destroyed when his voice cracked into a
scratchy squeal half way through.  “This is useless.”  

The sixth guard went to join the ring, leaving one Scarran to lean on John’s shoulders, keeping him pinned on
his knees.  

“Say goodbye to your mate,” Grisvolk invited Aeryn.

She turned toward John, head held high in defiance.  She was shaking from head to toe as her body began
giving way to the destructive heat.  “I love you.  Take good care of him.”  

“No,” John whispered.  “Don’t.”  He swallowed and spoke more loudly.  “Take me.  I’ll give you what you want.  
Leave her alone and I’ll give you the wormhole tech.”  

“Your history does not support your claim.  All accounts indicate that you will wait until your loved ones are safe,
and then you will break your assurances.”  Grisvolk left the group ringing Aeryn and came to stand in front of
John, looking down at the trapped human.  “We must have a more certain method of retaining your help.  
Where is your child?  Call to him.”  

The strength to say ‘No’ out loud didn’t exist.  John shook his head, keeping his eyes locked on Aeryn.  It
became a motion he couldn’t stop, feeling at first like a refusal to give up his son, and then turning into an
expression of denial as he watched Aeryn deteriorate.  Refuse, deny, refuse, deny -- the headshakes
continued.  He couldn’t get it to stop.  

“I love you,” she repeated.  Aeryn slipped again and fell to her knees.  

“Aeryn!”  John got one foot on the ground and strained against the hands holding him in place.  “No!  Don’t do
this!”  

Grisvolk positioned himself two motras from the deadly group and extended his hand again, subjecting Aeryn to
even more heat.  John could feel it washing over him from his position on the far side of Command.  It wasn’t
designed to burn her; it was designed to push her into heat delirium even faster.  The muscles seizures began,
punctuated by her labored gasps for breath, fighting against failing muscles.  

“NO!” Crichton screamed, fighting and bucking against the one guard.  “No! Stop it, stop it.”  He lost track of
what he was saying, knew only that he was swearing, pleading, screaming for them to stop.  His mind raced,
exploring every possibility -- envisioning the ludicrous, the extreme, the impossible plans to save Aeryn while
safeguarding Ian.  “I’ll do it!  I’ll tell you!” he yelled.  

He hadn’t meant to say it, but as it flooded out of his mouth, he was willing in that isolated instant to give up
Ian’s hiding place if it meant that the horror in front of him would stop.  

It stopped.  

Grisvolk lowered his hand and the ring of Scarrans backed away from Aeryn’s prone body.  John tried to get to
his feet; this time he was allowed up.  Aeryn was lying without moving but she was breathing easier, the bright
crimson smears of heat sickness across her cheeks already fading to something less lethal in intensity.  All he’d
done was to postpone her fate, however.  Unless he carried through on his desperately screamed promise,
they’d both have to endure a rerun of the last few unendurable moments.  

A wild plan began forming -- something having to do with fooling them, getting Ian out of the hidden room and
doubling back, with D’Argo providing cover in some totally impossible manner.   It was desperation, and down
deep he knew that if he tried it, Ian would wind up in Scarran hands.  

Aeryn’s head came up in fits and starts.  Gray eyes bored into his.  “You swore,” she accused him in a rasping
whisper.  “You took a vow.”  

They had argued over it for more than half a cycle after Ian was born, driving everyone aboard Moya crazy with
their nearly daily shouting matches.  It had taken an additional quarter cycle for them to agree on the wording.  
On Ian’s first birthday, they’d stood in the Den with everyone assembled, Pilot presiding over the event like a
great unfrocked minister, and exchanged vows.  The carefully selected phrases hadn’t been spoken to each
other, however.  They’d been delivered solemnly to their infant son.  They’d sworn that his life would come
before either of theirs, and that if necessary they would sacrifice each other to safeguard him.  

John had been afraid of a moment like this, when he’d be forced into a single alternative.  He’d argued
vehemently against the vows, willing to commit himself silently to his son’s safety.  Promises were like religious
doctrine to Aeryn.  She found comfort in the defined path that required no deviation.  His life remained in the
gray areas between extremes where the different factors of every situation combined to breed new
possibilities.  There had to be a way out of this without giving either one of them up.  He only needed enough
time to figure out how.  

“I can’t,” he admitted.  “I can’t lose you.  Please.”  John sank to his knees, palms resting on his thighs, the pain
of his singed hands a relief when compared with the agony in his heart.  “Aeryn.  Don’t make me do this.”  

She struggled up to face him more directly, sweat streaming, body gripped by an unstoppable palsy, close to
collapse.  “You … promised … HIM!”  She spaced the words out deliberately with her grating, quavering voice,
and forced him back into his self-created prison.

He looked up at Grisvolk, the eternity of their short conversation having taken less than five microts, and
delivered Aeryn’s death sentence.  “I won’t give you my son.”  

*  *  *  *  *

It was taking longer because he’d managed to tear loose from his one guard and Grisvolk had delegated a
second warrior to hold him.  When he tried to turn away, they forced him to watch.  Behind his yelling, he could
hear Aeryn choking, fighting to live even as her body broke down.  He beat at one of his captors with his
forearm, adding torn skin to the list of damage, bucked and struggled, trying to reach her in her last microts as
a functioning person.  

“AERYN!”  He twisted in their grip, fighting against one grasp then the other, and a flash of black caught his
eye.  He turned, expecting to see either one of the other Scarrans or D’Argo.  

Ian knelt outside the now-open DRD hatch, both hands firmly grasping a pulse pistol.  One knee on the floor,
one foot planted alongside his knee, arms outstretched but not locked, he sighted over the top with both eyes
open.  The only clothes they’d been able to find for him this cycle had been some Peacekeeper cadet
uniforms.  He’d been ecstatic to be dressed in black leather pants and a dark-hued t-shirt like his parents.  
Between the clothes and the stance -- unmistakably the result of Aeryn’s training -- he was magically
transformed before John’s eyes into one of the lethal Sebacean child-soldiers.

Ian’s tongue crept out of the side of his mouth, and the small pink evidence of total concentration broke the
spell.  Once again it was his son kneeling on the far side of Command, not a trained killer.  John made another
frantic effort to break free, desperate to prevent this particular rite of passage.  Ian was too young, as yet too
innocent to be forced into this moment.  

Crichton’s struggle had an unintended result.  One of the Scarrans holding him shifted his position, and was in
danger of spotting the small marksman.  

“Gridlock!” John bellowed.  “I’ll do it.  Leave her alone and I’ll do it!”  

Grisvolk turned to look at him, and a pulse blast ripped squarely through the center of the Scarran’s torso.  The
energy pulse flew the short additional distance and killed the individual standing across from the already dead
officer by removing the top of his head, helmet and all.  The entire chamber seemed to freeze in time for a
single microt.  The moment ended as both bodies toppled over and collapsed to the floor with a soggy
smack.       

“Again!” John yelled.  “Shoot again, Ian!”  The damage was done; the innocence of childhood irrevocably
sacrificed.  Emerging from the situation alive was all that mattered now.  The next few shots were no where near
as accurate as the first.  Pulse blasts flew in every direction around Command, chasing and mostly missing the
scattering, leaderless Scarrans.  A few shots headed in Ian’s direction, but the Scarrans were retreating too fast
to offer much resistance.  

John slithered across the floor in a fast crawl to where their weapons and comms had been tossed into a pile.  

“D’Argo!  Destroy the ship and get in here quick!”  

“On my way, John.”  The deck shook from a distant explosion.

“Pilot!  All DRDs fire.  They’re bioloids, not Scarrans.  Fire!”  John rolled onto his back.  He’d snared Winona as
he’d been yelling instructions, and he began firing at the two Scarrans remaining in Command.  “Ian, get down!  
Scuttle, kiddo.  I’ve got it.”  

Twenty microts later John got to his feet, paused to examine where a close call had torn away a piece of his
pants but left his leg unscathed, and looked around at the devastation.  Burned circuits from Ian’s wild shots
sizzled and sparked, cables hung down from the overhead conduits, and half the lights had burned out from an
overload.  There were also four dead Scarrans lying on the floor, and Ian was peeking out at him from his
refuge in the tunnel.  

John leaned down to retrieve his comms from his gunbelt.  “D’Argo?  Where are we at?”

“Pilot reports one dead in the Den, killed by the DRDs.  I killed the one patrolling the hangar bay.  How many
are left, John?”  The gravelly voice was coming across in pulses, suggesting that D’Argo was running.  

“Three.  They’re likely to head for the Den to try to get control of Moya.  Aeryn’s down.  I’ll be a few microts.”

“I’m on my way,” D’Argo responded and then the comms went silent.   

John laid Winona to one side, and knelt beside Aeryn’s unconscious body.  She was breathing, and most of the
overheated flush had disappeared, but there was none of the involuntary trembling that usually accompanied
her recovery.  She lay absolutely still.  

“Aeryn?  Come on, Sunshine.  Time to wake up.”  There was no reflexive grip when he held her hand, no flutter
of eyelids when he gently brushed his fingers across her cheek, no sign that Aeryn and her body were a
functioning unit any longer.  

“Dad?”  Ian had come to stand beside him, a smaller version of himself.  From the boots and leather pants to
the short cropped hair he’d asked for recently, Ian had begun modeling himself on his father more and more.  
John’s thoughts drifted to his life in the Uncharted Territories, and how the people he cared for most seemed to
be the ones who came to harm while he walked away unscathed.  It had happened again.  “Dad?” he was
summoned again.  

John forced himself to think and act.  The crisis wasn’t over yet.  There were three armed Scarran-replicas
loose on Moya.  

He started by addressing the anxious frown next to his shoulder.  “You came to the rescue just like Superman.  
You’re our superhero.”  The anxiety eased, but not the fear; a small shift in Ian’s expression expressed the
subtle adjustment.  “Ian, I’ve got to go help Uncle D’Argo and I’ve got to go quick.  But you and Mom need to
hide for a little bit in case the bad guys come back.  If I slide her into the tunnel, can you watch out for her while
she sleeps?”  

Ian nodded.  

“You go first and make sure she doesn’t hit her head,” John suggested.  He turned Aeryn onto her back,
retrieved her comms so Ian would be able to get help if anything happened, and slid her to where Ian waited
just inside the small hatch.  Three microts later, he replaced the grate and bent down to peer in at Ian.  “You’re
going to be fine.  Uncle D’Argo’s on Moya now.  I’m going to be right back.  See if you can make your mother
cooler.  If she seems cold, don’t cover her up, Ian.  Keep her cold.”  

“Okay, Dad.”  The tremulous voice suggested that the dimly seen figure was crying.  

“It’s over.  Everything’s going to be fine,” John reassured him one more time, then got to his feet and ran toward
the sounds of the Qualta rifle firing in the distance.  


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