Measure Of Devotion - Chapter 3

Once clear of Moya’s exterior inertial fields, the module accelerated smoothly to a velocity just short of Hetch
One.  Under Crichton’s relaxed guidance, its course scribed a gradually widening arc that shifted the stubby
nose away from the drifting leviathan and toward the rippling ocean of energy without any fast turns or abrupt
changes in course.  It was not until he had the thrust stabilized and the forward windshield lined up on the
center of the phenomenon that John gave Aeryn a small, full-bodied nudge, and asked, “Left to right, or right to
left?” referring to which direction they should take to orbit the anomaly.

“You always pull harder to the left when you’re banking.  Go … Frell!”  

“What frell?”  Crichton did not try to make a joke out her exclamation.  There had been no humor or teasing in
Aeryn’s voice.  What he had detected was a mild degree of alarm and a far larger supply of aggravation.  In
order to peer around her without straining his neck, he resorted to resting his chin on her shoulder.  Aeryn
made one half-hearted irritable shrug and then allowed him to leave it there without any further show that it
might be bothering her.  It seemed to be more of a reflex than any true desire to get him to give her more
space, which was a good thing, John reflected, since there was little room to spare in the cockpit.  His arms
were beneath hers in order to reach the controls, his elbows resting very comfortably either side of her body
just beneath her ribs.  

“What’s wrong?” he said, referring to her outburst.  

She made a frustrated gesture toward the front of the module with both hands.  Although the problem was
immediately apparent, she explained anyway.  “I was looking right at it, and it just disappeared!  It’s gone.”

“No way.  Maybe it just isn’t visible because we’ve changed angles, kind of like when we can’t see a wormhole
even though it’s there.”  He leaned past her and rapped his knuckles against the DRD perched on the top of
the instrument panel.  “Which way do we go, Vespucci?  Point at it.”  Accompanied by a robotic soundtrack
consisting of nonstop squeals and chirps, the eyestalks waggled wildly for several microts, pointing in no
specific direction at all.  The message, for all its lack of decipherable signals, was clear.  

Aeryn went to a different source for help.  “Pilot?  Is the energy disturbance still there?”

“No, Aeryn.  It has disappeared again.”

“Is Moya willing to continue toward Katratzi now?” she asked.

“She is not.  Although she will not explain her reasoning to me, Moya is convinced that if she moves forward the
irregularity will reappear directly in her path.  I cannot persuade her to move either forward or back.”

“Gotta love a headstrong female,” John murmured.  He leaned against Aeryn’s back and kissed the side of her
neck.  

Aeryn raised her shoulder, forcing him to retreat.  “Keep that up and you will find yourself walking back to
Moya.”  

“You mean this?”  He pulled her hair to one side and shifted his attention to the back of her neck where it would
be more difficult for her to push him away.  Careful of her midsection, he used his free hand to pull her further
into his lap and then hugged her tightly.  

“I’m referring to the dren about being headstrong.”  She spoke more loudly in the direction of the comms
equipment.  “Pilot?  What is the longest interval you have recorded between the energy signature disappearing
and reappearing?”

“Two and a half arns.  The shortest absence was eight hundred microts.”  

John slid an arm under Aeryn, fumbling awkwardly for several microts before he managed to thread his hand
under her second leg.  With a quiet grunt of effort, he lifted and turned her so she was sitting across his legs
instead of between them.  “I think we should just drift out here for a little while and see what develops.  It might
reappear.”  

“Pilot?” Aeryn called.  “Did you hear that?”

“Yes, I did, Aeryn.  I would like to remind you, however, of what happened the last time Commander Crichton
decided to let his craft drift outside Moya.  It very nearly cost him his life.  Moya and I would be very distressed if
there were to be a repeat of that event.  We believe it might be wiser if you came back on board while we wait
for the phenomenon to reappear.”  

“D’Argo, Chiana, Sparky, Sputnik …” John began, talking quietly to Aeryn.

She picked up where he left off.  “Pilot will want to talk to us.  The DRDs watch everything.  Noise, confusion …
and Cholak help us, Noranti.  John, is there no way to get her to take a bath?”

He ignored the complaint, focusing instead on their privacy.  “Out here, there’s only you, me, and Herby the
Love Bug,” John concluded, pointing to the top of the instrument panel where the DRD was motoring carefully
from one side to the other, inspecting its unfamiliar new environment.  “Pilot!  Snare the module in the docking
web, but don’t pull us in.  We’re going to hang around out here for a while and see what develops.  If anything
nasty starts to happen, yank us back inside the hangar and then tell Moya to beat feet.”  

“Done, Commander,” came the response, followed by the faint metallic chirp that said the comms channel had
been closed.  

“Alone at last,” Crichton said.  He gazed up at Aeryn.  “I forgot to pack the Parcheesi board, and there’s not a
whole lot of room in here for gymnastics.  What would you like to do instead?”

“From what some of your friends on Earth said, it did not sound like limited space in a vehicle ever stopped you
in the past.  Your sister showed me a picture of an automobile that you used to own.  It did not look any larger
than this.”  She smiled at him and bent her head down for a kiss.  “Can we just sit like this for a while?”  

The first touch was fleeting, a brush of her lips across his, warm and soft, testing for his reaction.  John freed
one hand long enough to release his safety harness.  He flipped the metal ends out of the way so they were not
digging into his stomach, and then boosted Aeryn the rest of the way into his lap, hauling her in snugly against
his body.  She peered around him in order to find a safe place to prop one of her feet, and then looped an arm
around his shoulders and kissed him again.  This one went on for what felt like arns, questing deep, tongues
sparring and exploring, the contact of their lips somehow effecting a more thorough merging of their bodies
wherever they touched.  He broke away, took in a deep breath, and went back for seconds.  

The module seemed to dissolve around him, leaving them suspended comfortably in space, only their two
bodies remaining.  In a detached, semi-aware kind of way, he was conscious of the back of the seat rubbing
hard against his spine, the weight of two bodies pressing him further into the padding than normal.  But from
knees to hips to throat, the remainder of his body was fully fixated on the presence of Aeryn Sun, from the
softer cushioning of her butt, to the knobby projection of one hip digging into his gut, to the drifting touch of her
fingers along the side of his neck.  She smelled sweet and clean, like the pleasant rain-washed air of a cool
autumn day, the sound of her breathing drowned out the few small noises of the module’s systems, and within
two microts every one of his senses were filled to overflowing with the one person who made his life worth living
no matter how bad things seemed to get whenever they were together.  

“I hope you can keep this up for two and a half arns,” he whispered when she took a break.  

“I thought we might spend some of the interval talking.  We haven’t had a lot of time for that lately.”

“Haven’t had time for that ever,” John said.  “Whenever we decide we want to talk, all hell breaks loose within a
matter of microts.”  

They turned as one to look out the windshield of the module.  The stars crept in a circle, the result of a small
amount of drift by the module.  Nothing moved outside the viewports.  Moya was out of sight somewhere behind
the drifting spacecraft, and they might have been the last two sentient beings in the entire universe for all the
motion they could make out in front of them.  Everything was serene and silent.  

“Frelling miracle,” John said, referring to the peace and quiet.  

“Maybe our luck is changing.”

“Do you really believe that?”

She wriggled, working her way further into his embrace.  “No.”  

“Talk?  Or should we go back to smooching?” he asked.

“Smooching?”  She repeated the syllables slowly but without any of the awkward unfamiliarity that had laced her
early attempts at English.  “I don’t know that one.”

“Smooch.  It means kiss.  Suck face.  Neck.  Make out in the front seat of the car until the cops show up and
shine a flashlight on us just as things are approaching climactic.”

“That sounds as if it has some promise, but … would you mind if I ask you a question first?” Aeryn said,
finishing hesitantly.  “It’s important to me.  I have wanted to know the answer for a rather long time.”

He tensed, half expecting a question as uncompromising the one he had asked her one day on Command:  
“Any other oaths of silence I should know about?”  

It had been a trap, and at the time he had felt absolutely no remorse over luring Aeryn into it.  “So you could tell
me if you were pregnant,” had followed, every bit as unforgiving as his initial question.  That exchange, as much
a punishment as a true inquiry, was like a bad dream.  It had become part of his past that felt like it belonged to
someone else, a borrowed feeling of anger and betrayal that had nothing to do with the woman sitting
contentedly inside his arms.  John relaxed, calmed by the certainty that her question would be a true query and
not a challenge.  

Although it had been a transient fleeting reaction, one that had lasted less than a split-microt, Aeryn had felt
the brief change in his body.  “You don’t want to talk.  You only want to make out,” she said.

“No,” he said, and rubbed his hand along her upper arm.  “That’s not it.  Fire away.”  

“We don’t have to.”  Aeryn tried to sit up.  Her body had gone as rigid as his had moments earlier, only in her
case the tension was not dissipating.  She was showing all the classic Officer Sun signs of hurt and anger.  

“That was not what I was thinking!”  John wrapped both arms around her and held on to the squirming package
of well-toned muscles, trying to prevent her from pulling away without hurting her.  “Jesus, Aeryn.  How can
something so simple turn into an instantaneous argument between us?  You made me nervous for a microt
there, that’s all.  I want to know what you were going to ask me.  Why won’t you …”  

He had been intending to say ‘trust me’.  His jaw snapped shut before he could utter the poorly chosen pair of
words, and the sentence remained unfinished.  

“Why won’t I what?” Aeryn said, still sounding angry.

“Nothing.”  He took a breath and tried to get his thoughts and reactions under control.  It had taken a single,
isolated microt of carelessness to transform the idyllic moment of hanging in space enjoying Aeryn’s company
into one of their usual emotional obstacle courses.  

Before he could put together a rational sounding alternative to his still unfinished sentence, Aeryn eased back
against his shoulder, took two deep breaths, and relaxed.  “Smooching?  I don’t know that one,” she repeated.  

He stared at her for a microt, wondering if he had missed something.  Then he realized what she was doing.  
She was starting the conversation over, setting the small miscues aside entirely and giving them both a second
chance.  He leaped in before she could change her mind, playing along with relief.  “It means kissing.  Making
out.  Which all sounds very nice, but I think we should take advantage of the peace and quiet to talk for a
while.  Is there anything you would like to ask me?”  

Aeryn gave him her sweetest, widest smile, and said in a breathy mockery of awe, “How did you know that I
wanted to ask you a question?”

“Just a hunch … and the fact that you may have broken one of my ribs trying to get out of my arms a few
microts ago.”  He shifted underneath her so she was leaning against the side of the cockpit rather than his arm,
and boldly headed back into the territory that had caused the original problem.  “Go ahead and ask.”  

Aeryn was sitting sideways across his lap with her feet propped up on the edge of the equipment panel that was
normally underneath his right elbow.  With the seat shoved all the way back to give them some room, it
provided an adequate footrest as long as she was careful not to place her heels on any of the circuits.  Aeryn
tugged at the open front of his overcoat, capturing and fiddling with one of the buckles for several microts,
clearly gathering courage to ask her question.  Crichton caught one of her hands and kissed each of the
knuckles in sequence.  Then he interlaced his fingers into hers and hung on.  “Just spit it out,” he said.

Aeryn nodded, ran the backs of her fingers down his cheek in a caress that he decided was a form of thank-
you for his encouragement, took one more hesitant breath, and asked, “When did you first know you loved
me?  And do not give me any of your usual dren about right from the start.  When was the first time that you
were really sure and how could you tell?”

He rested his head against the back of the seat, stared at the curved underside of the module’s canopy, and
thought back.  Examined as an unbroken whole, the days since he had met Officer Aeryn Sun blurred into a
single theme of desire and heartbreak, loneliness, longing, and the undiminished hope that some day they
might find the time to sit just like this and do little else than love each other.  There were bright moments along
that pathway, and dips in the road that were hidden within impenetrable shadows of grief.  And at the distant
end of that remembered journey lay the shining moment when she had tipped her helmet forward, taken it off,
and looked at him for the first time.  But Aeryn was not mistaken in her accusation.  That had not been the
defining moment when his love for her had begun to rule his life.  He had felt a jolt in his stomach and a mild
quickening of his pulse that day, but it had been drowned under the more critical demands of coping with a life
that had gone completely out of control.  It had not been until later that he had lost his heart to her.  

“Do you not remember, or would you rather not tell me?” Aeryn asked softly.  

“I’m just taking a microt to think about those first days on board Moya.  I know when it happened.  How could I
possibly forget the moment when you stole my heart, woman?”

From Aeryn’s reaction to his last comment John concluded that for once in his life he had managed to say the
right thing.  In the space between one breath and the next, her entire body softened.  It was not anything as
simple as Aeryn relaxing; it was more a case of her body becoming more malleable, as though some of the
steel had been leached out of her soul, willingly given up in the pursuit of becoming more flexible and yet more
resilient at the same time.  Stiffness had given way to a yielding strength.  

“Will you tell me?” she asked.  

“It was after the Zelbinion,” he said, still staring at the canopy.  Aeryn did not respond, so he waded in even
though he was not sure he could explain it so she could understand.  “Remember when it was all over, and you
said goodbye to Gilina and walked off through the tier?”  

“Too well.”  

The dry tone brought his gaze down to check on her expression.  She did not look entirely pleased at his
choice of moments, but she did not look irate either, which was reassuring considering the limited amount of
space available in the module's cockpit.  “Don’t shoot me until I have a chance to explain.”  

Her smile forgave him his long ago association with Gilina.  She said, “Go on.”

The day had been one of his worst in terms of conflicting emotions.  Repairing the defense screen had given
him a taste of everything that he had left behind when he had slammed into the first wormhole, as had working
in uncomplicated partnership with Gilina.  For a few arns he had been John Crichton the Scientist, instead of a
star-hopping, on-the-run refugee.  He remembered laughing with Gilina, mutual understanding easily achieved
because at heart she was a scientist like him and thus spoke a similar language.  It was a welcome change from
the daily battle he waged to establish any sort of connection with Aeryn, D’Argo, and the others.  And that was
the first time he had truly understood Aeryn’s loss.  He had seen how hers was a deeper, more intense grief
since she had no hope of ever returning to the life she had unknowingly forfeited the instant that she had stood
up for him.  

On that day, a short-lived return to the person he had been on Earth and a fuller understanding of Aeryn’s loss
had intertwined into the first layer of confusion.   

The turmoil had compounded when he watched Aeryn make the conscious decision to give Gilina her life back.  
An arn or two later, he had watched the exiled officer talk to Gilina again and that was when emotional lightning
had struck.  

Head high, back ramrod straight, with full knowledge that the blond-haired technician was returning to a way of
life that Aeryn could never regain, she had said, “I wish I had been so smart”, and had marched away without a
backward glance, never giving in to the overwhelming loss she must have felt at that moment.  In the days
following their encounter with the Zelbinion, he had spent dozens of arns thinking about what kind of ‘smart’
Aeryn had intended … or whether his microbes had translated it correctly in the first place.  His certainty began
and ended with the conviction that the look in Aeryn’s eye meant that she was referring to something more
complex than Gilina’s decision to lie about what had happened.  Beyond that, he was baffled.  

Had Aeryn meant that Gilina was smart enough not to mortgage her past, present, and future for an alien?  
Smart enough not to ignore a lifetime of training for a split microt because a stranger had snuck past her cycles
of indoctrination?  Or had it been her own way of implying that Gilina was just plain lucky enough that Crais had
not been around to declare her irreversibly contaminated?  He had turned the puzzle over and over in his mind,
and only become more uncertain.  

He had lingered in the corridor to say goodbye to Gilina -- voicing silly sentiments, taking his time, touching a
body that did not stiffen in surprise when he took her face in his hands and kissed her.  Later he had come to
realize that those moments had been his last attempt at hanging on to his previous life.  Like Aeryn, he had no
choice except to stay aboard Moya and watch the slender, intelligent tech slide back into her comfortable, well-
known slot within the Peacekeepers.  Another tangled layer had been added to the inner quagmire, and cycles
would pass before he sorted it all out:  how he and Aeryn were alike, how they were different, where they
belonged in the universe, and how Aeryn’s unintentional sacrifice while defending him should have taught her
never to put someone else’s interests before her own … and had not.  

The doors of the pressure hatch had slid shut behind Gilina, and he had stood there for over an arn before
going in search of Aeryn.  He had spent the time trying to figure out why he did not hurt from saying goodbye to
Gilina, who had been accepting, smart, and even a little fun, and yet ached for Aeryn, who spent most of her
time pushing him away.  

And that was when he had known for sure.  If the odd queasy feeling in his stomach and the buzzing electrical
charge running up his spine were not enough to tell him what was happening, the ache he felt whenever she
turned her back and walked away from him eliminated any doubt.    

John sat in the module with Aeryn in his lap, and struggled to explain what had happened that day.  He worked
his way through it all, omitting only the detail of a sweet, gentle kiss against the corner of his eyebrow.  It took
almost a full arn to untangle the concepts that were clear as long as they were securely stowed inside his head,
and transform them into clumsily worded explanations.  Aeryn sat calmly through the entire tale, never taking
her hand out of his, and interrupting only when he thoroughly confused her.  

“So it was right then, in the corridor when I walked away and left you two alone, that you knew?” she asked
when he had finished.  

“You finished talking to Gilina, stared at her for a microt as if there was some way to take back everything that
had happened since that moment when you spoke to Crais on the Commerce Planet, and then you tucked that
damned pulse rifle under your arm and marched away like none of it bothered you.  I was pretty clueless about
what was going on in your head at that point, but I knew one thing.  I was sure you weren’t calm, cool and
collected on the inside at that moment.  And you just … marched away, head up, carrying your weapon, holding
on to what little you still had of your life.”  With a little tug, he pulled her forward so she was resting against his
chest with her head on his shoulder.  “A part of me wanted to run after you and rip that stupid rifle out from
under your arm, pick you up, and kiss the stuffin’ out of you.”

“But you didn’t and you’ve been trying to make up for it ever since, haven’t you?”  She raised her head to look
at him, inviting further proof.

John kissed her, taking his time, feeling the hollowness of physical excitement build in his stomach until it spilled
loose and spread like a warm flood throughout his body.  Chest, back, arms, legs, and especially the inside of
his head:  every bit of him was consumed by the thought that he was alone with Aeryn, and that for once they
had some time together without anyone else to interrupt them.  He broke away first, licking his lips, trying to
imprint the sensation on his memory for all time.  

“You haven’t asked,” Aeryn said into the brief moment of silence that followed the kiss.  

“Asked what?”

“When I knew for sure that I loved you.”  

“I don’t care.  As long as you love me now, the rest is ancient history.”  

“You’re not afraid of the answer,” she said.  

He straightened up so he could look at her better.  “That’s not true.  There’s one answer you could come up
with that I wouldn’t want to hear.  It scares me half to death, as a matter of fact.  But I trust you not to stab me in
the guts like that.”  

“You trust me with your heart,” she said slowly.  

He smiled, acknowledging her deliberate use of those particular words.  “I don’t have a choice, Aeryn.  You own
it.  You always have.”  

Aeryn did not answer.  She raised a hand to his face and traced its contours, her eyes following its progress.  
The backs of her fingertips brushed along his cheekbone, swept up alongside the corner of his eye, and then
dove back across his temple.  Firm and whispering soft, thumb, fingertips, and the backs of her fingers equally
put to use, she explored his features, eyes trained intently on his face the entire time.  “I do love you very
much,” she whispered in the end.  Her arm snaked around the back of his neck, and she pulled him down for
what he quickly decided was the kiss of his life.

His body reacted predictably to the enthusiastic provocation, and he could feel the peculiar sort of muscular
vibration coming from Aeryn that meant she had begun to respond in kind.  “Not much room in here,” he said
into her lips.  

“I’m sure you can figure something out.  You’re imaginative,” she said.

“Not to mention motivated.”  

The cockpit seemed to become overly crowded after that, full of arms and legs attempting to move at
impossible angles and bumping into control surfaces at every opportunity.  Pulse pistols were unfastened mid-
embrace and fumbled over the back of the seat to drop with a double ‘thunk’ into the back of the cockpit.  
There was a brief hailstorm percussion of fasteners being released, the fast slide of zippers and then the first
flurry of desire died down, replaced by something with greater need and longevity.  Deep sighs and labored
breaths, small chuckles, and whispered exchanges became the only noises for a short time, gradually replaced
by more metallic thumps and clanks as they work in tandem to find suitable positions.  The heel of a boot
activated the comms; Crichton reached past Aeryn to slap at the panel.  An alarm started chirping, warning that
a power cell had inadvertently been shut down; two hands fumbled together for the appropriate switch.  

“Watch it.  Canopy jettison,” John mumbled halfway through a kiss.  He cupped one hand over the button to
prevent an accident, and helped Aeryn move her leg past the danger zone with the other.  

“Explosive release,” she whispered in a breathless, husky voice.

“Yup,” he agreed, breathing hard.

“Like you.”

“I should be so lucky.”  

They laughed together, and went on doing their best to achieve their chosen goal despite the obvious
obstacles of too little space, too many clothes, and a seat that would not recline.  Unnoticed by either of the
craft’s occupants the windows began to fog:  Warm, moisture laden air condensed on the space-chilled
viewports until small rivulets began to streak down the smooth surfaces.  The whispers and strained breathing
increased; the small laughs and quiet, ecstatic noises occurred more frequently and became increasingly
strident with every passing microt.  The DRD peered at the occupants for several microts, and then spun
around and trained its eyestalks steadfastly on where the stars would have been if they could be seen through
the thickening layer of moisture coating the inside of the windows.  

“AERYN!  CRICHTON!”  The transmission reverberated throughout the tiny cockpit, bringing the activities there
to an abrupt, heart-pounding stop.

“Frell.  Chiana,” Aeryn sighed into John’s shoulder over the span of two poorly controlled breaths.  

“Cops and flashlights,” John groaned, and then called more loudly, “Chi, we’re a little busy right now.  Can
this --”

“You … you have to get back to Moya right now … right now, Crichton.  You have to hurry.  Hurry, it may
already be too late.”

He recognized the nebari’s stumbling, uncertain phrasing, and did his best to sit up quickly, carrying Aeryn
along with him.  “What is it, Chiana?  What did you see?”  

“Hurry, Crichton.  Come back to Moya now.  Right now,” was all she would say.  The words tumbled over the
comms repeatedly.  

“Pilot, haul us in!” he yelled.  “Get the docking web powered up, and yank us back.”

“I am already attempting to retrieve you, Commander.  For some reason, the docking web will not keep your
ship netted.  The web sensors refuse to maintain a reliable fix on your ship.”

“Energy.  Energy disrupts the frelling docking web,” John said, his voice gone low and quiet with urgency.  
“Frelling energy must be surrounding the module.”  He leaned forward, reaching for the controls.  

“You’re hurting me,” Aeryn ground out between clenched teeth.  She was pushing against him hard, trying to
disentangle herself and straighten up at the same time.    

John realized that his attempt to reach for the controls had Aeryn twisted to one side and bent doubled over, a
position that would be agonizing to barely healed abdominal muscles.  He squirmed to the side, giving her room
to slither off his body to one side.  It put the power switches out of his reach.  “Those.  Hit all of those, Aeryn.  
Quick.”  

She tried, but she was facing the back of the cockpit, and it meant twisting around toward the front.  The motion
stopped short of what she needed to reach the toggles.  Her right hand grabbed on to his shoulder, dug in
more deeply than it had at any time over the past two days, and with an extended screech of pain, she
wrenched herself the rest of the way around by force and slapped the switches upward.  “Go!” she said, letting
herself unwind and sagging back against his shoulder.  

“We’re too late!”  

The module was already encased in light.  Miniature strokes of lightning were jumping from surface to surface
within the cockpit, the controls fizzed and sparked within his hands, sending small jolts of cramping discomfort
all the way to his shoulders, and Aeryn’s hair had begun to drift away from her body in an expanding corona of
dark filaments:  all signs that their ship was being bombarded by a level of energy it had never been designed
to handle.  Crichton wasted a split-microt worrying about radiation, the susceptibility of human DNA to damage,
and a fetus held in stasis, and then forced his attention back to the more immediate crisis.  

“We’re screwed!” he yelled over an increasing din of sparking equipment and sizzling displays.  

“Shut up and fly this pile of dren!”

He did his best.  Ignoring the constant discharges of electricity that were flowing from the controls into his hands
and from there into the metal frame of his seat, he held on tight and tried to guide the ship toward Moya.  
Displays fizzled, sparked, shivered into lines of meaningless black and white, and winked out, leaving him
robbed of sensors and navigational guides.  They were sitting jammed side by side now, and Aeryn did her best
to help him.  She wiped the condensation away from as many ports as she could reach, and searched for a
point of reference that would guide them in the correct direction.  

“You’re going the wrong way, Crichton!”  Pilot’s distorted yell screeched and scratched amidst the static coming
from the comms equipment.  “Turn around!”  

“A star.  There!”  Aeryn pointed to one side.  “Fix on that.”

Crichton banked the module hard over, ignored the fact that he could not see the star she was pointing at, and
rammed the controls forward, asking the stubby little craft for every bit of power it possessed.  It slogged its way
forward as though it were a toboggan mired in a bog, fighting its way through intangible strands of energy.  
Behind the crackle and hiss of an overloaded comms system, John and Aeryn could hear a chorus of voices
calling to them, urging them to break free, to escape, to return to Moya:  D’Argo bellowing, Pilot sounding
frantic, Chiana continuing her broken, mildly confused entreaties, and Rygel adding his gruff sounding pleas to
the chaos.  

“We’re pulling free,” Aeryn said.  “We’re going to make it.”

The view turned from smelter brilliant to merely sunshine unbearable, and then cooled to the darker shades of
uncluttered space.  Black took over from rainbow hues of light, and more of the stars came into view.  

“We’re going to make it,” she said again.  

The words were barely out of her mouth when module bucked and flipped end for end.  A surge of energy
slammed into John’s hands where they gripped the biometallic controls, and from there fired into the rest of his
body.  He grunted in pain, every muscle in his body seizing up for the length of time it took for the charge to
pass through him, and then, once he could move again, he resumed his efforts to wrestle the module free.  But
the space-dark sky was gone.  Looking out the windshield was like staring into a glass-blower’s oven filled with
white-hot glass.  There was nothing to see but the searing brightness -- colorless, pulsing with radiant energy
alone, malevolent in its intensity.  

In the last instant before they were completely enveloped, Crichton delivered a one-word commentary on their
predicament.    

“Frell.”


                                                                          * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chapter 2                                                                                                                                                                                   Chapter 4
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