Measure Of Devotion - Chapter 2

Mid-morning aboard Moya found Crichton in one of the maintenance bays rummaging through several bins and
various cargo containers filled with both surplus and discarded circuitry.  Chiana was perched on the corner of
a workbench, chin propped on one fist, watching the disorder expand outward in an inexorable flood.  Bits of
metal, electronic components, wiring, excess conduit material, and dozens of other objects were tossed aside,
skittering and ricocheting further across the maintenance bay with each flick of his wrist.     

“What the frell are you looking for now?  Isn’t all that dren enough?”  Chiana waved her free hand toward the
assortment of parts strewn across the workbench surface.  

More intent on his quest than on holding a conversation, Crichton left her question hanging unanswered.  With
a triumphant yelp, he lunged headfirst into the bin, nearly turning upside down in the process.  Emerging with a
small circuit chip clutched securely in his fingers, he then knelt down to talk to a DRD.  “See this?  I need one
just like this only with twice the number of sensor processing circuits.  And it’s got to work.  Not burned out like
this one.”  He waved the bit of charred electronics back and forth in front of the drone several times, setting the
eyestalks to waving, then placed it in the extended pincer claw.  “Go!  Find Timmy, Lassie.”

Somehow managing to create an aura of grave introspection with little more than a pair of flexible eyestalks and
a single limb, the DRD considered the chip.  After several microts, it chirruped once, dropped the damaged
circuit on the floor, spun in a circle twice, and then zipped out of the maintenance bay at maximum velocity.  

“What do you need with a sensor processor?”  Chiana picked up a round globe that had been sitting on an
otherwise abandoned corner of the workbench and began tossing it idly from hand to hand.  

Crichton moved fast.  He crossed the space between them in three long strides, snared it out of mid-air, and
held it under her nose.  “Radioactive material, chica.  If you drop the shiny ball on the floor, it will be very, very
bad.  Johnny will die of radiation poisoning and then Aeryn will shoot Pip, and everyone will be very sad.  
Weeping, wailing, crying.”  Reverting to a more normal tone of voice, and spacing out his words for emphasis,
he finished with, “Do not juggle the plutonium, Chi.”  

He placed the globe back in the holder he had made to keep it from rolling off the workbench, and then
answered her question.  “Have you ever heard of a dead-man switch?”  

“Sure.  That’s like swapping one corpse for another, right?”  She slid off the workbench and followed Crichton
to the far side of the maintenance bay.  

With his head and shoulders deep inside a mostly empty container of parts, his response to the skewed
interpretation was transformed into a booming, macabre laugh.  He straightened up with another fragment of
equipment in his hand, examined it, and tossed it to one side.  “Good try, Chi, but not quite.  This is going to be
my safeguard when we go waltzing into --”

Pilot’s voice interrupted before he could finish his explanation.  “Commander Crichton.”

“Yeah, Pilot.  What’s up?”  

“Please proceed to Command.  There is something there that requires your attention.”  

“Like what?”  John strode back to the work bench where he carefully latched the globe containing the plutonium
into its holder, ensuring that even the most violent contortions by Moya could not rock it loose.  

“I believe it would be best if you simply proceed to Command.  Explaining would be far too complicated.”  With
that, the comms channel went silent.       

Sighing, Crichton surveyed the mess he had made, then waggled a finger in the direction of several DRDs
loitering in a corner.  “Don’t clean this up.  If you do, I’ll have to start searching through all this dren all over
again.  Understand?”  He received a random collection of blinks, chirrups, and squeaks from the squad of
drones.  “I shouldn’t be gone long.  An arn or two at most maybe.”  He glanced at Chiana.  “Coming or staying?”
he asked.  

She bounded toward him through the field of scattered parts, aiming for clear areas of the floor and missing
almost every one of the infrequent bare spots.  The scrunching impact of her boots had no visible influence on
the route she chose or the care she took with her aim.  Metal, ceramic, glass, and biomechanoid materials
screeched, snapped, clattered, and shattered beneath her feet.  Every DRD eyestalk in the maintenance bay
followed her hopping, erratic progress in perfect unison.  The drones themselves refrained from any of their
usual robotic commentary concerning the stomping devastation.  

Chiana finished her journey with one last huge gangling leap, finally coming to rest beside Crichton.  “Neither.  
I got better things to do than sit around in Command listening to Pilot and you exchange techno-babble, and
there’s nothing going on here.  Maybe I’ll go see about plotting a course that would take me and a transport
pod away from Scarran space.”  

“Techno-babble?” Crichton echoed.  “That is not techno-babble.  That is the sound of two highly learned
scientists comparing factual information in the pursuit of greater knowledge.”  After receiving one of the nebari’s
brief, wild laughs for an answer -- one that seemed to imply that she did not believe his explanation -- he
switched subjects.  “You are not taking one of the pods.  We’ve offered to drop you off somewhere if you don’t
want to come with us to Katratzi, but you are not taking any of the transport with you.  We may need every one
of the ships before this is over.”  

“I’ll take your wreck then,” she suggested.  “That’s not exactly a space craft.”

He ignored the insult.  “Over my dead body.  Stay away from the module or I’ll program the DRDs to shoot
you.”  He jabbed an index finger at her for emphasis, stopping half a dench from the tip of her nose.  To the
tune of another wild, bubbling laugh, Chiana snapped at it, threatening to bite him.  The finger was snatched
away unscathed, and Crichton scowled at her.  “Don’t go getting crazy on me, Chiana.  There’s enough
craziness all around us without you joining in.”  

She turned her back on him and wandered a few steps to one side, subdued by his warning.  “Yeah.  
Whatever.  Who’s the crazy one though, Crichton?  Me for wanting to get away, or you for walking straight into
the hands of the scarrans?”  

“That’s what the big kaboom in the small package is for, Pip.”  He followed her and pulled her into an awkward,
one-armed hug with her head tucked under his chin.  “You’re going to be okay, Chiana.  They’re not interested
in you.  They’ll be concentrating on me, and the rest of you will be able to move around and get things done.”  

After giving her one more squeeze, he released her and jogged out of the maintenance bay, headed for
Command and Pilot’s mysterious summons.  

She watched him leave, no happier than before the reassurances.  “But it’s not me I’m freakin’ about, Crichton,”
she said to the empty maintenance bay.  Chiana examined the mess spread across the floor one more time,
grinned impishly at the trail of smashed parts that marked her earlier journey through the detritus, and then left
the chamber as well, moving more slowly than Crichton but also headed for Command.  

                                                                             * * * * *

John reached Command five microts behind Aeryn.  She was about to step through the doorway when he made
the turn at the junction of the corridors.  Pausing half way through the ovoid door opening, she waited for him,
watching him approach with a half-smile in place.  He slowed to a lazy stroll, giving himself an extra few microts
to look at her.  Aeryn showed no sign of what she had been through while in the custody of the scarrans.  
Standing with one knee bent, a hand resting casually on the edge of the doorway, head tilted slightly to one
side so that her hair fell thick and glossy over one shoulder, she looked healthy, energetic, and happy.  

And most of it was a façade.    

It was not so much an act as it was a thin veneer over the more truthful reality.  Even after a good night’s sleep,
she was still hovering on the thin edge of physical exhaustion, and by refusing to give in to her body’s needs
she was making things worse.  Their morning had been a repeat of what had occurred in the middle of the
night.  Aeryn had insisted that she could take a shower and get dressed on her own, and had rebuffed every
one of his demands that she allow him to help her.  As with her brief visit to the waste alcove arns earlier, she
had made it through less than half of the shower before her body had given out and she had been forced to
ask him for help.  When he stepped around the shower partition to join her, he had been greeted by the
repressed Peacekeeper officer he had met on his first day aboard Moya.  Her answers to his occasional
comments had been monosyllabic and terse, her movements jerky with poorly contained anger, and his
attempts to joke her into a better mood had only managed to make her more volatile.  The bathing had been
finished quickly and without any of the sudsy familiarity he had been hoping for when she had first called to
him.  

“I’m sorry,” she had whispered half an arn later, and had run her fingers through his damp hair.  

He had been kneeling at her feet, fastening the lowest buckles on her boots while she took care of the more
easily reached upper ones, and had looked up in surprise.  “Sorry for what?” he had asked.  

Aeryn had waved a hand in the direction of the shower.  “That.  It’s just that I --”

“You hate not being able to take care of yourself,” he had finished for her.  “Aeryn, face it.  You’re a control
freak, and being forced to depend on other people is driving you a little bit nuts.  It will stop as soon as you’re
back to running on all cylinders.  And that,” he said while he secured the last buckle and got to his feet, “will
happen sooner if you stop pushing yourself.”  

“You always understand,” she had said softly.  “It’s part of what I love about you.  I usually don’t have a clue
why you do things, but you always seem to know why I’m acting the way I am, sometimes before I figure it out.”  

The quietly voiced comment had been more than sufficient compensation for putting up with her moodiness.  
What she had said was not true; Aeryn’s motivation for doing certain things often baffled him beyond any hope
of comprehension.  But he had accepted the statement for the apology that it was, and had finished getting
dressed feeling more lighthearted than he could remember feeling over most of the preceding four cycles.  

“Hey,” Aeryn greeted him as he slowed to a stop at the entrance to Command.  

“Hey.  You look good enough to eat.”  

She gave him her often-seen ‘humans are odd’ look.  “I hope that’s just another of your peculiar sayings and
not something I should take literally.”

“Maybe.  Maybe not.”  He ran a hand down her back, combining a caress with a small nudge toward Command.  
“Any idea what Pilot’s emergency is?”

“He didn’t comm me.  I overheard him talking to you, and came up to see what was going on.”

They walked into Command together, John trailing half a step behind Aeryn.  Several of the crew had already
gathered there, and were standing in a small cluster by the strategy table.  Without exception, they were all
motionless and were staring out the forward view portal without any of the usual bickering commentary.  D’Argo
was frozen with one fist propped on his hip, the fingertips of the other hand resting on the top of the table as
though to steady himself; Rygel’s throne sled was slowly drifting to the right, suggesting that its owner was not
aware that he was in motion; and even Sikozu stood without speaking.    

“What’s the big … Holy light show, Batman!” Crichton burst out.  “Pilot?  What the frell is that?”

“That question is precisely why Moya and I have requested that you come to Command,” Pilot’s voice answered
over the comms.  “There is no record of such an occurrence in any of Moya’s datastores.  We hoped that you
might recognize this anomaly.”

From side to side and top to bottom of the screen, the entire expanse of space visible through the forward
portal was filled with a shimmering, rapidly fluctuating energy disturbance.  Light streamed outward from a
central, poorly defined area that was constantly undulating and changing shape.  Every color in the spectrum
shattered outward into space:  pulsing, merging, shifting in complex sheets and spikes for thousands of metras
in every direction.  

Crichton shielded his eyes with one hand and tried to spot the source of the disturbance.  Each time he thought
he had located the center it slid away from his gaze as if by magic.  It did not move; it simply refused to be
seen.  It was as though the coruscating light was coming from ‘somewhere else’ -- a place that human eyes
were not designed to perceive.  The central area was not black, and it was not a void of matter and energy.  As
far as he could make out with just his eyes, it simply was ‘not there’.   

“What the frell?” he said in a distracted mumble.  He looked around at the more familiar environs of Command,
blinked several times in response to the abrupt shift from the unknown to the pleasant reality of his space-
faring home, and felt as though he had taken several steps back from the edge of a cliff.  The adjustment was
abrupt, the impact physical.  He staggered two steps to one side.  “Whoa.  That was wild.”

“Do you recognize this disturbance?” Pilot asked.  

“No, I don’t.  But if it suddenly grows eyes and a mouth and introduces itself as Nagilum, then I want you and
Moya to turn tail and run like hell, Pilot.”

Chiana bounded into Command and skidded to a stop.  “What the frell is that?”

D’Argo straightened up and shook himself vigorously, as though he too had been entranced by the sight and
had just found his way back, guided by Chiana’s high-pitched outburst.  The fast, wild flurry of tanktas and
braids looked as much like a shaggy dog shaking water out of its fur as it did like a temporarily stunned luxan
returning to life.  Turning to look behind him, he asked, “Was that one of your usual senseless jokes, John?”

Crichton did not bother to explain the source of his comment.  Aside from the fact that it was a waste of time --
since every one of his attempts to describe Star Trek and the show’s imaginary aliens had resulted in
uproarious laughter -- he was already at one of the consoles, calling up the stream of data being collected by
Moya’s sensors.  “Pilot, how far away is that … that” -- he struggled to find a word for the spatial disturbance --
“thing?  Do we need to back off?”

“We have already reversed course several thousand metras.  We are now at the extreme limit of Moya’s short-
range sensors.  If we retreat any further, it will require that I switch to long-range sensors.  That will limit both
the amount and quality of that data that can be collected.  And we need data if we are to proceed.”

“What is it, John?” D’Argo asked.

Crichton was hunched over the console, leaning on his forearms, staring at whatever information was provided
there.  Every few microts he would look up at the forward view portal, comparing the visual effects to the less
awe-inspiring collection of sensor readings, and then he would return to staring at the displays in front of him.  
His answer, when it came, sounded as though he was distracted to the point of not being able to talk.  “It’s a
great big galaxy-sized light show.”   

“Thank you so much for that profound insight,” D’Argo said.  His voice dropped to a rumbling bass laced with
sarcasm.  He made a pinching motion with his thumb and forefinger, indicating a miniscule distance, and asked,
“Could you be just a little more precise?”  

“That’s … not a wormhole,” Aeryn said tentatively into the ensuing silence.  

John agreed.  “Definitely not.  None of the energy signatures resemble a wormhole, although I’ll admit that the
visual manifestation has some similarities.  But whatever that thing is, it’s putting out a massive energy
signature.  I wonder …”  His voice trailed off into silence.

“Wonder what?” several voices said in synchronized curiosity.

“I was thinking for a microt that it might be the butt end of a black hole that has punched through from another
dimension, but no one has ever proved that singularities dump their energy in that manner, or even come up
with the math for it.  And in either case, this thing’s not big enough for that to be the answer.”

“Then what is it?” asked Chiana.

“Who the frell cares?” Rygel said.  “This is not a scientific mission.  Pilot, go around the … whatever it is.”  

“Moya is not inclined to move forward until we are able to determine the source of the anomaly, and the risks
involved in drawing closer to it,” Pilot said.  “She is very concerned that it might envelope her.  She has
informed me that she will not risk going near any spatial phenomenon related to a wormhole ever again.”  

“So swing out to one side and put a galaxy worth of space between us and it,” Crichton said.  “Tell Moya to give
this sucker a wide berth and take a detour.”  

For the first time since the discussion had begun, Pilot’s image appeared in the clamshell.  He looked dejected
as he explained, “She refuses.  In the arns since her long-range sensors first detected the energy signature, it
has disappeared completely and then reformed elsewhere several times.  In one instance, its position changed
from a location well clear of Moya’s intended route of travel to directly in her path.  She refuses to move forward
until the source and nature of the phenomenon is determined and its movements can be predicted.”  

Aeryn moved closer to the forward view portal to where she could watch the coruscating colors without anyone
standing between her and the scenery.  “That could take dozens of solar days worth of study, Pilot,” she said.  
“We don’t have that sort of time to spare.  What do you suggest we do?”  

“An assessment can be made more quickly if we have more data to examine.  Moya and I request that
someone, preferably Commander Crichton, take one of the smaller ships and circuit the anomaly in order to
obtain a variety of sensor readings that cannot be obtained from this distance and relative position to the
object.”

“No!” several voices yelled at once.  

“That’s asking for trouble,” D’Argo said.

Aeryn looked at the avid curiosity on Crichton’s face, watched the fast increase in interest and excitement, and
skipped all the less drastic methods of coercion for the most direct one.  She threatened him.  Dropping her
right hand to the butt of her pulse pistol for emphasis, and careful to keep any hint of humor out of her voice,
she said, “I will shoot you in the leg before I let you go out there.”

Crichton’s enthusiasm diminished but did not vanish entirely.  Keeping the scenery in sight out of the corner of
his eye, he made a noncommittal sideways movement with his head.  “All right, then come up with a Plan B.  
You tell me how to figure out what that thing is so Moya will take a detour.”

Chiana said, “Turn back.  Scorpius isn’t worth it.  This is a sign that we shouldn’t go through with the plan.”

Sikozu opened her mouth to object.  Crichton cut in before she managed to get a single sound out.  “What
about wormholes, Pip?  You ready to see the scarrans trompin’ through the galaxy with no way for anyone to
stop them?”  When no one answered him, John turned toward Aeryn.  “I’m not going to fly into it.  I can run out
there in the module, grab a few readings that Moya can’t come up with from this far away, and then scamper
back on board before you have time to charge a pulse rifle to shoot me in the leg.”

“No,” she said firmly.  “And certainly not in that heap of junk of yours.”

“Junk?” John protested in a falsetto screech.  “Why does everyone keep calling my module a piece of dren?  
The white guppy is not junk.  A jalopy maybe, but not junk.”

Rygel interrupted.  “I suggest you let him do it.”  The hynerian waited until all eyes were on him before
continuing.  “Crichton goes out there, Crichton gets sucked into whatever that is,” he said, waving a dismissive,
languid hand in the direction of the ongoing light show, “and wherever he winds up, it will probably be far
enough away that the wormhole knowledge can’t be accessed by anyone.  No one gets their hands on
wormholes, we don’t have to go to this Get-Trotsie place where Scorpius is being held, and we live happily ever
after.  I vote in favor of letting Crichton go out there.”   

“And what about Scorpius?” Sikozu said.  “If we don’t rescue him, he will die at the hands of the scarrans.  We
must continue to Katratzi, and we cannot be delayed.”

Rygel’s smile made a subtle shift from a basic, self-serving grin to a far more avaricious leer.  “As I just said, we
live happily ever after.  If there is any justice in this universe, his death at the hands of the scarrans will be slow
and painful.”

From there the debate descended into a shouting, multilingual squabble, every person defending their own
interests, frequently changing their preferred course of action depending on how the latest suggestion would
affect the outcome.  Crichton stepped out of the uproar and went to stand next to Aeryn, leaving the remainder
of the crew to their various battles.  

“Gotta go out there,” he said quietly.  “Moya’s not going to move forward or back unless someone does, and I’m
the logical choice.”

Aeryn shook her head.  “Any one of us can go.  You agreed that it is not a wormhole.  All we have to do is get
some readings and bring them back so Pilot can analyze them.”

“I’m not letting you do it.  Who do you suggest we send?”  

The pair watched their crewmates for several microts.  Aeryn did not say anything.  After several more microts
without an answer from her, John said, “Whoever goes out there has to at least know what the data indicates so
they know whether they’re picking up anything meaningful.”  He paused, giving her a chance to respond before
adding, “We could send Sputnik.”

“She can’t be trusted.  If it was the only way to rescue Scorpius, she wouldn’t hesitate to alter the data.”  Aeryn
sighed, turned her head to look at him, and admitted defeat.  “All right, but I go with you.”

“NO!”  The single word was out of his mouth before he could stop himself, and he knew it was a mistake even
as he blurted it.

Aeryn pounced.  “Why not?  If it’s not dangerous for you, then why don’t you want me to come with you?”  

“Shit, shit, shit, shit,” John chanted.  The slip of a single word had left him without a defense, and there was no
doubt in his mind that if he ever managed to get off Moya to survey the energy disturbance, that Aeryn was
going to be sitting alongside him.  It was his turn to sigh in resignation.  “Me and my big frelling mouth.”

“Which ship do we take?” Aeryn asked.  

“The module.”

“Aside from the piece of dren argument, there aren’t enough sensors in that archaic hunk of --”  John’s glare
stopped her from adding more abuse to the description.  “We can take the Prowler.”  

“We take the module and we take a DRD with us.  It has all the circuitry Moya and Pilot need to record a full
range of readings, and I can tell it what to scan for.”  

“We take the Prowler,” she said, glaring at him.  

“Absolutely not.  That thing,” he said, jerking his head in the direction of the forward view portal, “is not a
wormhole, but it is putting out a couple dozen types of energy that go right across the full range of possibilities,
Aeryn.  And in the wrong energy fields, Prowlers turn living flesh into red goo.  We are not taking the hotrod.  I
will sit here until we are both old and gray before I let you out there in the Prowler.  And before you say it, if you
put a transport pod into the same sort of energy, they melt, so we’re not taking a pod either.”  

“Lo’la,” she suggested.  

“D’Argo put it into a diagnostic check to make sure the shields and the cloaking equipment are all at full
capacity.  It’s not going to do anything but sit and hiccup for another six arns.”

Aeryn frowned and wandered several steps away from him.  She stopped with her back to him, her head turned
to one side so she could watch the shimmering display floating tens of thousands of motras in front of the
motionless leviathan.  John glanced toward the strategy table, using the intermission to see how the battle there
was faring.  Instead of the expected verbal chaos, he discovered that he and Aeryn had picked up an
audience.  

D’Argo was standing with his arms folded, satisfaction clearly reflected in both his facial expression and his
body language.  John could not decide whether this was a result of the luxan’s pleasure that someone else
other than him would be making the short trip to survey the anomaly, or if it was because D’Argo enjoyed
watching his two friends bicker.  Chiana was perched on a seat beside the warrior's right hip, curled into what
Crichton would have said was an anatomically impossible position had he not seen it for himself.  She had her
head cocked to one side and looked as though she was hovering permanently on the verge of laughing.  
Sikozu and Rygel were arranged to either side of their other two crewmates -- one standing, the other hovering
-- each with their own distinctive raised-eyebrow look of self-interest firmly in place.  Noranti was there as well.  
The traskan had joined the group in Command at some point, her arrival gone unnoticed in the midst of his
sparring with Aeryn.  The old woman was sitting on the table, feet propped on one of the seats, watching the
discussion with a bright-eyed smile of avid fascination that Crichton had last seen on the faces of the
spectators at a demolition derby.  

John turned away from that hopeful expectation of an imminent car wreck to see what was happening on his
own personal battlefront.

Aeryn had finished her deliberations.  “I don’t like it,” she hissed in a whisper.  

“Oh, do speak up.  No secrets among friends,” Noranti encouraged from the sidelines.  

John turned his back on the gallery and took a step to one side so Aeryn was blocked from their view as well.  
He lowered his voice to a barely audible rumble.  “Options?”

“None, but that doesn’t mean I have to like it.  It seems like every time you go out in” -- she put in a pause for
emphasis -- “your module, something unexpected happens.”

“Is there any chance of me getting off Moya without you coming along?”

“No,” she said flatly.  Her tone of voice left no room for argument.

“Then you’ll be there to keep me in line.  We go out, we grab some readings, and we come back.  That’s it.”  He
spread his hands, inviting a rebuttal.

She turned her head from one side to the other several times in a slow-motion headshake before reaching a
decision.  “Pilot?  Send a DRD equipped with a full range of sensor circuits to the hangar bay, please.  Crichton
and I will take his ship out and check on that disturbance.”

John headed for the door.  “Hot damn!  Goin’ for a drive in my sports car with my girlfriend!”  Halfway across
Command, he spun around and jogged backwards for several steps, pointing a finger in Aeryn’s direction.  
“Dress warm!  That thing was made to skip through the atmosphere, which means it sheds heat instead of
retaining it.  Bundle up.”  

“This is supposed to be a short trip!” she yelled after him.  But John had turned around again, and had already
disappeared from sight at a run.  “Frell.  He’s too excited over this.”  

“Want me to go with him instead?” Chiana asked.  There was a bright-eyed look of mischief about her that said
she did not have sensor readings, data inputs, or spatial anomalies on her mind.  

Aeryn ignored the offer.  She turned toward D’Argo.  “Keep the comms open, and be ready for anything.  If
things start to go to dren, and he’s fixated on the science, you may have to drag us back aboard by force with
the docking web.”  

“I’ll be ready,” he said, and raised a hand in an awkward half-wave, half-salute.  “I won’t leave Command until
you’re safely back aboard Moya.”

                                                                             * * * * *

In the time it took Aeryn to go to her quarters and then make the trek to the hangar bay, John had stopped by
his own quarters to retrieve several additional layers of clothing, and had finished the preflight check of the
Farscape module.  Taking advantage of his head start and faster progress through the tiers, he snared two
spare fuel cells from the recharging rack and, after listening intently for several microts to make sure he
could not hear Aeryn’s footstep coming toward the hangar bay, tucked them out of sight under the pilot’s seat.  
He had not been lying when he assured her that it would be a short, trouble-free flight, but if Aeryn was coming
with him, he was not going to take even the smallest chance of once again getting stranded in space at the
controls of a powerless spacecraft.  He considered the reserves provided by a single biomechanoid fuel cell,
did some hasty calculations, and added a third spare.  

“I’m ready,” Aeryn said beside him.  

Startled, he straightened up without thinking and bashed his head against the underside of the raised canopy.  
Rubbing the sore spot on his scalp and mentally cursing himself for not hearing her approach, he hopped down
from his perch.  “Damn.  Didn’t hear you coming.”  He glanced at his hand to make sure he was not bleeding
then looked up at Aeryn.

The results had been worth the short wait.  She had changed into a tight-fitting, long-sleeved shirt, and had
chosen the same collection of layers he had selected.  Both wore their usual vests, followed by a short-waisted
jacket, topped off by their long overcoats.  Aeryn carried a pair of leather gloves in one hand, and had a pulse
rifle tucked under her other elbow.  Despite the bulky layers, she still managed to look slender and impossibly
shapely.  The feminine curves refused to be cloaked by anything so mundane as leather and fabric.  He found
the subtle hints more arousing than the idea of the bold, naked reality that lay underneath, and his imagination
shifted into high gear.  John fought a short battle to get his hormones under control, and finally managed to lift
his stare as far as her face.  

Aeryn had her head tilted a few degrees to one side, and was watching him with all the intensity that he had
seen when the biology majors at MIT were watching their lab rats.  He scrambled to find something to say.  
“Uhm … You don’t really need a pulse rifle, Aeryn.  This is a science mission, remember?”  

“This is you and me going somewhere, remember?”  She stepped up onto the small cargo container he had
been using to reach the cockpit, and stowed the rifle.  “Do you want me to get in first?”

John looked at the smooth, rounded fall of her overcoat where it curved over her buttocks, and allowed his
earthier desires to take control from unimpassioned logic.  “I’ll get in first.  You sit up front with me.”  

Still perched on the cargo container, she peered under her arm at him.  “There isn’t enough room for both of
us, John.”

He started to grasp her around the waist to lift her down, and then remembered the puncture wounds.  
Recoiling before he made contact, he put out a hand instead and merely gave her something to help with her
balance while she made the short descent on her own.  “I’ll move the seat back and you can sit in my lap.  We
fit like that once before.”  

“That was just sitting in the hangar, not flying.”  

“I’ll let you handle my controls,” he said, wheedling.  

The invitation backfired.  Aeryn’s expression shifted from tolerance to the impassive Peacekeeper stare that the
last cycle’s events had taught him to avoid at all costs.  “This is business, John.  We pay attention, we don’t go
off on one of your wild goof chases, and if either D’Argo or Pilot tells us we need to return to Moya, we do not
argue or delay.  We turn around and dock.”  

Crichton decided that correcting her English would not be a good choice in light of the borderline anger in her
voice.  “Out and back,” he said, trying to sound agreeable.  “But you know there isn’t enough room in the
rumble seat.  You have to scrunch up your knees to fit in there.  It’ll hurt.”

Aeryn stepped up on the cargo container to examine her options.  Finally, she stepped awkwardly over the side
of the module, and stood hunched over in the front of the cockpit, leaving plenty of space for John to slide into
his seat behind her.  He scooped up the DRD that had been waiting patiently beside his feet, handed the little
robot to Aeryn, and then made the transition into the module in one vaulting leap.  He hit the hard cushioning of
the seat with a leather-against-leather ‘fwhump’, and then slid his feet more cautiously past Aeryn’s.  She
checked behind her to make sure he was ready, and folded herself into his lap.  

“Power up,” he ordered.  

His hands were busy adjusting and securing the safety harness.  After one futile attempt to get it around both of
their bodies, he shortened it and belted just himself in.  He paused for a moment before fastening the webbing
straps into the central buckle, considering the possibility of a crash and what it would do to Aeryn if she was not
restrained.  But the rear seat was a crudely fashioned affair that he had added the first time he needed to take
another person for a ride in the module, and the harness was not fastened into anything substantial.  It was
bolted to the seat itself, instead of being properly secured to the module’s frame.  John decided that if they
were faced with the prospect of an uncontrolled landing, he would let Aeryn land the module while he focused
all of his strength and attention on the sole task of hanging on to her.  

Aeryn flicked the last of the toggle switches connected to the power supply.  “Power on,” she said, bringing his
attention back to the here and now, instead of on an imagined disaster.  

“Canopy closed and sealed.”

“Closed.”  It lowered into place and there was a hissing sigh as the powered latches clamped it securely into
place.  “And sealed,” Aeryn said.

They ran the rest of the checklist in easy partnership, finished getting settled and as comfortable as possible in
the cramped confines of the cockpit, and then John reached around her to take the controls and they were out
the hangar door and flying free, headed for the unexplained phenomenon.  


                                                                 
         * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chapter 1                                                                                                                                                                                   Chapter 3
Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11  

Chapter 12  

Chapter 13  

Chapter 14  

Chapter 15  

Chapter 16  

Chapter 17  

Chapter 18  

Chapter 19  

Chapter 20