Measure Of Devotion - Chapter 5

It felt as though someone was resetting his circuit breakers one by one, inconsiderately taking their own sweet
time between each small restoration of his internal operating systems.  The feeling in his ribs returned first,
followed closely by some of his hearing.  Crichton did not bother trying to move; there was not enough of his
body or brain functioning yet to attempt anything as simple as opening his eyes.  His ribs ached abominably,
which might have been why they were the first portion of his body to make an impression on the blank area
formerly occupied by his brain, and just enough of his hearing returned for him to know that someone was
talking to him.  It seemed that memory was further down on the repair schedule.  He could not remember where
he was or why he felt so miserable.  

Time passed.  The slow-moving repairman got around to restoring a few more circuits.  Most of the sensation in
his torso and legs returned, accompanied by a few bursts of recall that explained the wide spread physiological
malfunctions.  He remembered the mysterious leviathan, its hangar bay, trying to protect Aeryn, and being shot
by the bagpipe-blunderbuss.  He also remembered the last few microts of what -- since he was fairly sure he
had died -- he assumed was a previous life.  Once again, dying had been incredibly painful.  He had been
allowed a fraction of a microt to register that he had been hit by the discharge from an energy weapon, after
which it had felt as though every synapse in his body had misfired at once.  This time he had been subjected to
death by electrocution.  

More of his memory and the feeling in his arms were returned to service.  By applying every last remnant of
surviving brain matter to his surroundings, John managed to figure out that someone was supporting his head
in their lap and was slowly stroking his cheek.  The touch was unmistakable.  Aeryn.  The relief that she was
alive came close to undoing all the progress his personal electrician had made so far:  his stomach did a fast
flip-flop and the universe seemed to spin around him for a microt.  An effort to inform her that he was alive and
was going to recover came out sounding like the noise his mother’s parrot made whenever it was feeling anti-
social and was about to bite someone’s finger.  

“Gwawk?”  

“Take your time.  Don’t rush it,” Aeryn’s voice told him.  Either she knew what he had been trying to say or
did not care.  Based on the parrot noises, his money was on the latter.  

Taking his time involved relaxing.  Relaxing resulted in fading out for a while.  When he came back, Aeryn’s lap
was gone.  His head was resting on an uncomfortable, lumpy cushion that was nowhere near as warm and
forgiving as the Aeryn Sun padding that had been there earlier.  It motivated him to open his eyes and make an
attempt at moving.  Sight worked; movement was not as successful.  He was lying on the floor of what looked
like a fairly standard leviathan cell except that this one had no bed, no storage shelves, and was less than a
quarter of the size of the ones aboard Moya.  Considering the size of this ship, the cramped quarters seemed
out of character.  His muddled thinking did not proceed much further than that.    

“Awake?” Aeryn asked, moving into view.  

His mouth was not attached to the rest of his body yet.  He managed to produce something more intelligible
than his earlier comment anyway.  “Sort … of.  Did … I die?”  

That drew a familiar ‘indulge-the-peculiar-human’ smile from her, which probably meant that nothing
catastrophic had happened while he was unconscious.  Aeryn confirmed it.  “No.  You were only knocked out,
although it may feel like you died for another arn or two.”  

It took Aeryn several microts to work her way from standing over John to sitting cross-legged on the floor beside
him.  Her movements were slower and more cautious than they had been that morning.  It was not the
progression he would have expected with the passage of time.  That thought triggered another query.

“How long … ‘s I out?”  

“About four arns.”  

“You get hurt?”  

She shook her head, and gestured toward her midsection.  “This is from twisting in the module.  I’m stiff, not
damaged.  You took the full charge.  I only caught some of the backlash; I never lost consciousness.”  

“Good.”  John laid still and thought for a while.  He was having trouble getting all the pieces to fit together, and
a ghost of an idea kept wafting past his attention too fast to be captured.  Aside from being annoying, it
repeatedly distracted his already wandering thoughts.  Whatever piece of information had gone missing was an
important one.  The sense of urgency was overwhelming; it was creating an intensely unpleasant tight feeling
between his shoulder blades even though he could not reassemble the underlying cause.

“Is the baby ‘kay?” he asked after several more microts’ consideration, thinking that this might be the important
topic.

Aeryn’s smile disappeared.  It was replaced by a grimace that was in imminent danger of becoming a frown.  
She leaned over him, and spoke slowly and deliberately, delivering a short lecture.  “The baby is in stasis,
John.  There are a small number of toxins that could cause it to abort, and it could not survive a pulse blast to
my stomach, but there is very little else that can harm it at this stage of development.  You have to stop basing
every one of your decisions on protecting me and the baby.  What you did in the hangar was possibly the
stupidest thing I have ever seen you do.”

What looked and sounded like anger was nothing more than Aeryn’s way of venting her anxiety.  He tried to
joke his way out of a situation that he knew could turn into full-blown fury if he handled it wrong.  “Glad to hear it
was … worth it.”  

“It was worth it and I understand why you did it.  What you have to understand,” she said, thumping a fist in the
center of his chest for emphasis, “is that protecting me is a waste of time if you get yourself killed in the
process.  I do not want to have this child alone, John.  Do not pull anything like that again.  We do this together
or we don’t do it at all.”  

“’kay.  Point taken.”  John bit back several other far less agreeable responses.  He could not remember feeling
this humiliated by a scolding since the time he had been chewed out by his teacher in front of the entire First
Grade class.  His efforts to keep the conversation from turning into a full-blown argument began to crumble
before an onslaught of hurt and resentment.  It did not seem right that he should have to put up with a verbal
flogging as a reward for trying to protect her.  Before he had time to think about it, what might have been the
most foolish thing he had ever said to Aeryn popped out of his mouth.  He recognized that it was a mistake
even as his lips were forming the words, and could not get his mouth to stop.  “Next time just spank me.”

She did not even blink.  If he’d had more control over his body, he would have braced himself for a punch … or
something worse.  Instead, Aeryn closed her eyes for several microts, took a deep breath, and let it out slowly.

“I didn’t mean that,” John said carefully into the silence.  

She nodded several times, still with her eyes closed, before saying, “When you were shot, you stopped
breathing for several microts.  I thought you were dead.”  Aeryn opened her eyes and looked at him.  

In spite of the short, cryptic explanation, her message was clear.  Although the inside of Crichton’s head
continued to feel as though half the connections were shorted out, the memory that gave her comment deeper
meaning was readily accessible and as achingly vivid as if it had happened just arns earlier.

“Guarantee you won’t die in my arms again.”

His attempt to protect Aeryn had brought her most frightening nightmare to life right before her eyes.  If their
roles in the hangar had been reversed, seeing her start to breathe again would have brought him close to
emotional collapse.  What those handful of microts had done to Aeryn, he could only guess at.  An apology
did not seem like enough at that moment, and he was incapable of providing any sort of physical reassurance.  
In the end, he used Aeryn’s own words to let her know that he understood and would do his best to avoid a
repeat of the day’s events.  

“Together or not at all.”

It was enough.  The rigidity in her spine melted away, and Aeryn bestowed a mild, almost tolerant smile upon
him, as if to say that some chivalry on his part would always be welcomed, but not the degree of blind,
unthinking protectiveness that he had shown that day.  

“Good,” she said.  “Do you want to get up?”

“Not yet.  I’m missing something that happened, Aeryn … something important.  What have I forgotten?”  

She hesitated before answering, “There’s a lot we need to discuss and I do not know how much time we have.  I
want to be sure you’re thinking clearly first.”  

“My head is clear.  Fire away.”

Aeryn nodded several times.  “Start by telling me your father’s name.”  

Although John knew the answer was safely stashed in his head, he could not pull it out of storage.  “I know my
father’s name, and so do you,” he said, feeling both angry at her trivia question and mildly unsettled by his
lapse of memory.  “Quit with the IQ tests, and get on with the important stuff.”

“Not until you tell me your father’s name.”  

He made another attempt at finding the information.  The answer to what should have been a simple question
remained a micro-dench out of reach no matter what he tried, teasing him with a mental version of Hide-and-
Seek.  “I don’t remember,” he finally confessed.  

“Then we’ll wait.  I do not want to have to repeat everything.  Let’s see if you can sit up.”  

“Why can’t I remember certain things?  What’s wrong with me?”

“It’s the weapon they used.  The same thing happened to me except it wasn’t as severe.  It will pass.  Sit up,
John.”  She had her hands under his shoulders and was trying to coax him into moving.  

It took three tries and a significant amount of help from Aeryn.  In the end he was upright, giving him his first
opportunity to examine their surroundings.  The first thing to catch his attention was his lumpy pillow, which
turned out to be Aeryn’s long overcoat folded into a compact bundle.  John stared at the hummock of black
leather for several microts, bombarded by an assault of memories involving the number of times throughout his
childhood that his parents’ sweaters or coats had served as his pillow.  Aeryn’s effort to make him comfortable
set off a peculiar reaction that involved a painfully large lump in his throat and an unwelcome urge to cry.

It was rarely the critical moments in his life that affected him in this manner.  Things like running into the
intergalactic equivalent of carnivorous seaweed, getting bitten in the ass by a six-legged dog, and having Moya
invaded by an unfriendly, armored version of Land of the Giants never triggered the mourning for a life he
could not and did not want to resume.  It was usually something small and innocuous that set it off; it might be
the turn of someone’s head that reminded him of an old friend, the growling sound that Moya sometimes made
that could have been one of his dogs dreaming underneath his bed, or the quiet clank of the door to the
refrigeration unit in the Center Chamber closing, which continued to remind him of a couple of beer bottles
rattling against each other.  He added a new item to his list of things that could make him homesick:  Aeryn’s
coat tucked under his head in order to make him more comfortable.  

Aeryn’s voice interrupted his wandering contemplation of how some things never changed no matter where he
was in the universe.  “Any better yet?” she asked.

He stared at her for several microts before he managed to pull his thoughts back to the present.  “No.  I feel like
I’ve been lobotomized.  How long is this going to take?”  

“I don’t know.”  Aeryn got to her feet and wandered around the perimeter of the cell.  

John continued to sit in the middle of the floor with his legs stretched out in front of him and, since there was
little else to do, idly examined their cell.  Aside from the fact that every bit of metalloid plating looked like
wrought iron, the small chamber resembled a cell aboard Moya in every other way save one.  From the thick,
arching support ribs to the organic looking lights, to the triangular air vents and DRD access hatches,
everything was the same as a room aboard their own spacing-faring home.  The singular exception was the
door.  Instead of the diagonal grating typical to a prison-ship leviathan, this was an uninterrupted sheet of
biomechanoid-grown metal that looked like it would slide into the wall when opened.  Careful not to upset his
balance, Crichton checked to either side and behind him.  There was no waste alcove, no water tap, and no
waste funnel.  

All of the clues settled into place.  “This isn’t a cell.  We’re in a storage area!  What the frell is going on?”

“Father’s name,” Aeryn said.    

“Jack.”  Somewhere inside his head, the elusive repairman threw a massive circuit breaker.  Everything came
back at once, including the fleeting thought that had been eluding capture.  

“Kill them.  And jettison the bodies before our next starburst.”  

“Damn!  He was speaking English.  Help me up.”

Aeryn  did not help him to his feet.  She had him shuffle into the corner furthest from the door instead, and then
she sat down facing him.  With both of them sitting cross-legged and leaning forward, they were close enough
to talk without being heard from as little as a motra away.  Unless the cell was bugged, their conversation could
not be overheard even if there was someone stationed outside the door.  

“I tried to tell you that in the hangar,” she began.  “You weren’t listening.”

“It sank in too late.  What happened while I was busy pretending to be Tarzan saving Jane?”  

“The moment you yelled, he changed the order,” Aeryn said.  “He was the one who slapped the rifle aside and
kept you from getting shot by one of the other weapons.”  

“Which would have killed me instead of just turning me into a moron for a few arns.”  

“Correct.”  Aeryn smiled at him and bumped her forehead lightly against his.  “I didn’t notice much of a
difference.”

“Thanks a bunch.”  He took one of her hands in his.  “What else did I miss?”

The briefing he received from Aeryn was so thorough and concise he assumed she had spent most of the last
four arns organizing it in her mind.  She began with the instant he collapsed on the hangar floor, explaining that
he had landed right on top of the DRD.  

“My ribs,” he said, interrupting her.  “I assumed someone had kicked me.”

“They took you to a medical bay to make sure nothing was broken,” she said, and then recounted her trip
through the leviathan, first to the medbay where both she and John were examined for injuries, and then to this
closet-sized holding cell.  

Aeryn described what she had seen in precise, factual terms, layering only the most strongly supported
conclusions and interpretations on top of it.  By the end of the first sentence, Crichton realized that he was
receiving a military reconnaissance report, and kept silent, doing his best to memorize everything she was
telling him.  The summation laid out what it was like to be on a leviathan jammed with personnel, instead of
wandering through Moya's empty corridors and deserted tiers.  It meant cells that housed between six and
twelve people each, based on Aeryn’s observation of multi-tiered bunks; supplies stacked to the ceiling along
the walls of the corridors, maintenance bays converted into small manufacturing centers, another that had been
turned into what she thought might be a vegetable garden; and passageways filled with chattering, multi-
species, multi-lingual personnel, some moving purposefully while others lounged or sat on the floor, which
Aeryn took as a sign that the common spaces aboard the ship were filled to overflowing.  

“The medbay might take up an entire tier,” she finished.  “At a minimum, there were sixty medbeds in the
section where we were taken, and there were medical scanners spaced out one to every ten beds.  I counted
fifteen medical personnel on duty, including two diagnosans circulating through the area.”  

“Troop transport,” John theorized, once she had delivered the last of her report.  

Aeryn shook her head.  “Troop transports don’t have gardens for growing food or industrial sections for
building weapons.  Several other details aren’t right either.”

“Such as?”

“No rank insignia.  There is a hierarchy because people were giving orders, but there is nothing to identify
officers versus enlisted or conscripted troops.”

John rubbed the side of his head, trying to ease a lingering headache that he assumed was a byproduct of
being shot with an electrified, mutant bagpipe, and then looked around the tiny chamber.  “So the closet is
because they didn’t have an empty cell available.”  

“That was my conclusion.”  Aeryn straightened up, stretched her back for a moment and then hunkered down
close to John again.  

“What the hell have we gotten ourselves into?” he said, musing over the facts Aeryn had given him.  “What’s
your best guess?”  

“I don’t have enough information to form a reasonable theory,” she began.

He flapped a hand back and forth several times, cutting off her objection.  “Take a wild ass guess, Aeryn.  I
don’t need a mathematical proof.  You’re the expert on things that go boom, and they’ve got lots of things that
go boom aboard.  Take a stab in the dark.”  

She held up one finger, indicating that more than a one possibility was about to be presented for his
consideration.  “They may be deserters from a larger force.”  

“Except you don’t like that idea for some reason,” John said, interpreting her tone of voice.

“From what I saw, their morale is good.  There were no arguments, no fights.  These people are living in
extremely close quarters without bickering.  And they’re disciplined.  Someone is maintaining order.”  

“We could use some lessons from them aboard Moya.  Okay, toss the deserters theory.  What’s next?”

Aeryn raised a second finger.  “Remnants of a larger force.”  

“Cut off from everyone else or the only survivors?” John asked.

“No way to know.”  

“You like that theory,” he said.

Aeryn nodded her agreement.  “I haven’t seen enough to be sure, but what I did see, fits well.”

“Okay, call that Choice Number One.  What’s the next option?”  

Aeryn held up three fingers.  “I haven’t a frelling clue what’s going on here.”  

“With our track record, that’s probably the most likely.”  

“That’s what I’m afraid of.  Your turn, John.  How could he know English?”  

Crichton held up three fingers.  

“No frelling clue,” Aeryn said.  

The lock mechanism let out its peculiar, quiet warble and the door began to slide open.  “We may be about to
find out,” John said.  

It took Crichton two tries before he managed to stagger to his feet, and an additional four microts to grab
Aeryn’s outstretched hand and help her up as well.  By the time they turned to face their visitors, there were
three armed guards stationed on either side of the open door, and the sandy-haired sebacean was standing
two steps inside the cell.  The delvian who had been issuing orders in the hangar bay was there as well, a step
behind and to one side of the sebacean.  No one spoke.

After several microts of silence, Crichton said, “Eight against one.  You must think I’m a real dangerous man!”

The sebacean started to speak, paused to look at John more closely, and then shook his head.  He paced the
scant motra to one side, and then back again.  Everyone in the room remained silent.  Finally, apparently
coming to a decision, he used a fast jerk of his chin to indicate that he was addressing John, and said, “You
need to answer some questions.  If I don’t like what I hear, I will shoot her in an arm or a leg, and then we will try
it again.  If I don’t like the next set of answers, we will work our way toward the center of her body until you
cooperate.  There isn’t going to be any screwing around here.  Got that?”  

For the second time in a matter of arns, they were using a threat against Aeryn to control him.  John
understood that he had foolishly revealed a vulnerable spot in his defenses, and they were not going to be
hesitant about exploiting that weakness if it meant getting whatever they wanted.  The danger to Aeryn was real
and imminent.  Smothering an overwhelming desire to argue or at least demand a few answers of his own,
Crichton nodded.  

“Who trained you?”  The sebacean watched John intently.

“Trained me to do what?” John fired right back.

“Shoot her in the foot,” the sebacean ordered.  

“NO!  Wait!  No, you don’t have to do that!”  John waved his hands desperately at the guards and stepped in
front of Aeryn, blocking them from taking a shot.  “Just tell me what you want to know!  Trained me to do what?  
If you mean getting shot by Dr. Skreeth and his Electronic Mayhem, that part comes natural to me!  The only
thing I do better than pointing guns at the wrong people is get complete strangers pissed off at me enough to
shoot first and ask questions later.  Ask her!”  He pointed over his shoulder at Aeryn.  

Her response was far calmer than Crichton’s desperate attempt at an explanation.  “It’s the truth. He does.”

The sebacean’s shoulders slumped and he began shaking his head again.

“Sir?” the delvian asked.

Crichton focused his attention on the relationship between what he had previously assumed were a superior
and a subordinate, seeing and hearing for himself the lack of definitive rank that Aeryn had mentioned.  The
delvian’s quiet prompt was delivered with the deference expected of a lower ranked officer, but there was also
a relaxed familiarity that could only come from an equal … or a highly trusted advisor.  John continued to watch
the interplay between the two, adjusting his assumptions with each additional word and movement.      

“He’s almost too good.  There’s no way they could know a couple of the things he’s said just in the past few
seconds.  But at the same time, everything is skewed a few degrees off center.  It’s as though they didn’t get
their intelligence right or he memorized it a hair wrong.  They’ve been word perfect up until now.  So this could
be something other than what we think or a new ploy.”  

The sebacean turned from the hushed conversation and considered the pair of prisoners.  He pointed at Aeryn
and then at John as he began what was for them a bewildering explanation.  “The scans indicate that she’s off-
the-shelf sebacean with nothing tricky thrown in.  You, on the other hand, set off every single one of the alarms
we’ve installed in the scanners.  But they’ve had some success in the past at altering sebacean genetics to
appear human, so that’s not definitive.”  

He ran his hand through his hair several times, setting free a lavish cowlick in the back and an equally unruly
section of bangs.  The combination gave him a deceptively boyish look, as though a roguish, older version of
Huck Finn was hiding inside his body and had made a half-hearted takeover bid.  That was as far as the
similarity extended, however.  There was no mistaking the thoroughly adult, potentially lethal level of tension
radiating from the wiry body.  He took a step back so he was behind the guards instead of in front of them,
propped his hands on his hips, and closed his eyes.   

Crichton used the moment to look directly at Aeryn for a microt.  Her eyes flickered in his direction, she nodded,
and then she returned to watching the group by the door with the deceptively calm expression that meant she
was in full Peacekeeper mode, ready for a fight.  John did his best to copy her relaxed vigilance.  He let his
eyes rest on one spot, watching no specific person and concentrating on the entire group by the door at the
same time.  His attention kept wandering, however, drifting back to the small bit of information that Aeryn’s nod
had confirmed was significant.  The trip to the medbay while he was unconscious had not been to check for
injuries.  It had been to verify that they were -- or in John’s case, were not -- sebacean.  Their futures seemed
to hang on that one revelation, and he did not like where his train of thought was leading him.  

Even worse, it was distracting him from the more immediate life or death crisis.  Crichton shoved the mystery to
one side, and focused on the sebacean and his entourage.  

After several more microts had passed in silence, the delvian asked, “What do you want to do?”   

The sebacean rubbed one eyebrow with his thumb several times before answering.  "If I was smart, I’d space
them this instant.”

John started to argue.  Aeryn’s hand caught his and gave him a warning squeeze.  When he checked to see
why she was stopping him, he received a headshake so small he doubted anyone else in the chamber would
have noticed it.  It was followed by a flicker of her eyes toward the sebacean and back, and then a mild
narrowing that told him to stay silent and wait.  

“Do it.  It is the only safe alternative,” the delvian said.  

The sebacean straightened up, stretched his neck to one side for a microt, and then relaxed.  “You know why I
can’t.”  

“That is not a good enough reason,” the mystifying argument went on.  “Let me take care of them.”  

“No.  We’re not going to play this one safe.”  The sebacean met Crichton’s gaze squarely.  “The dangerous
man line.  Who were you quoting?”   

“What’s going on?” Aeryn asked quietly.  

John held three fingers up where she could see them.  “It was a line from a movie,” he said for her benefit.  
Turning back to what he now knew was either another human or the weirdest trick that had been played on him
in the last four cycles, he said, “Either John Wayne or Richard Boone.  Take your pick.  They both used it.”  

“And then the fucking Muppets.  There’s no way they know about Muppets,” the man said.  “Next question, and
don’t screw with it because the wrong answer will get you both dead in a hurry.  Who am I?”  

Crichton held up three fingers, deliberately ignoring the fact that it would not having any meaning to anyone but
Aeryn.  "No frelling clue.  It’s pretty obvious that you’re from Earth, which raises three or four thousand
questions about how you got here -- wherever here is -- but you could be Marvin the Martian for all I know.”  

The man stood with one hand on his hip, rubbing his forehead with the heel of his hand for several microts, and
then seemed to come to a decision.  He gestured to his escort, including the delvian with a jerk of his head.  
“Take off.  You too, Kaillin.  I’ll risk it.”  

The delvian held his ground.  “We won’t risk it,” he said.  

“Take a hike.  As much as I can’t believe it, I think this is exactly what it looks like.  Right now it’s impossible to
find a spot aboard this tub without a couple dozen people standing around anyway, so I’ll have help if this goes
sour.  Get some rest.  You’re going to need it.”  

The guards filed out of the crowded space without an argument.  The delvian, Kaillin, lingered to make one
more suggestion.  He made no effort to disguise his hostility toward the leviathan’s two most recent arrivals.  
“We have not finished checking their ship.  We need to starburst in case someone is tracking them … and now
us.”  

There was a five microt delay during which no one moved, and then the man John had begun to think of as
‘Huck Finn’ said, “Pat says we can starburst in a little over a quarter of an hour.”  He waved Kaillin away, waited
for him to leave, and then turned his attention back to John and Aeryn.  

“I’ve got it now,” Crichton said immediately.  “From the way he’s watching over you, he’s got to be Commander
Ryker.  That would make you Captain Picard and we’re on board the Enterprise!”  

“I can tell you’re going to be real fun to have around,” the man shot back.  “Either that or a complete pain in the
ass.”  

Aeryn stepped closer to John and slid her arm into his.  “My advice would be to put your money on the
second.”  The comment was light-hearted; her tone was not.  

“You come as a boxed set,” the man said, eyeing their proximity.  

It was the closest thing to a relaxed comment anyone aboard this ship had said to them so far, and it teased
John with the possibility that he might be allowed to ask some questions of his own.  There was so much he
wanted to know; things like who ‘Huck Finn’ was and how he had gotten here, and more importantly, where the
frell 'here' was in the first place, and whether he knew how they could get back to Moya.  One thing about the
situation was clear however:  they had not yet reached the point where they were welcome aboard the
leviathan, and that meant that his questions were better saved for later.  He settled for draping his arm around
Aeryn’s shoulders and leaning against her, trying hard to create an air of nonchalance.  “Call us Butch and
Sundance.  We’re the Bonnie and Clyde of the Uncharted Territories.”  

“Don’t get too relaxed,” the man said, “I haven’t made up my mind about this yet.  I’m going to call you John,
because that’s what she called you.  I’d prefer you keep your mouths shut until we sort this out, but if you need
to get my attention, I answer to Nate.”  He raised his eyebrows in Aeryn’s direction.  

“Aeryn,” John said, fighting down an urge to provide her entire name and rank as he had received it the first
day he had met her.  Aside from any other consideration, spouting ‘Officer Aeryn Sun, formerly Special
Peacekeeper Commando, Icarian Company, Pleisar Regiment,’ would give away too much information under
their current circumstances.  Ignoring the fact that he probably would have received a swift kick from Aeryn,
which was reason enough keep quiet, he decided that if Nate was going to play it close to the vest with
information, then so was he.  

“From the way you’re behaving, I’m assuming he’s human,” Aeryn said to John.  

“How am I behaving?”

“The way a Ghorellian fire lizard does when it is fighting over disputed breeding territory.”  

Nate shook his head.  “There’s no dispute here.  I’m the Big Dog on this patch of turf.  What I say goes, so don’t
piss me off.  Keep your gonads set on low, your manners set on high, and we’ll get through this without either of
you getting summarily tossed out an airlock.  Let’s go.  This is easier to explain with a little Show-and-Tell than
by talking it through.”  He waved his hand for them to follow, turned his back on the two people he claimed he
considered a threat, and strode into the corridor with a carelessness that bordered on antagonism.  His
relaxed, hands-in-the-pockets stroll seemed to say, ‘Attack me if you think you can succeed’.  

Crichton stepped aside, allowing Aeryn to go next, and together they hurried after the other human.  The microt
they stepped into the corridor, they discovered the source of Nate’s confidence.  Just as he had said to Kaillin,
the tier was jammed with black-uniformed personnel.  Only a complete fool or someone on a suicide mission
would have attempted to attack the person who -- provided his ‘Big Dog’ claim was accurate -- was the ship’s
leader.  

Nate set a fast pace, weaving through the crowds and striding over out-stretched legs or the occasional
sleeping body with the sort of ease that comes from extensive practice.  Aeryn did almost as well by putting her
arrogant Peacekeeper glower to good use, in most cases opening a path with little more than a look.  In part
because it required less effort but also because he did not want to get separated from Aeryn for even an
instant, John stayed right on her heels, sacrificing dozens of opportunities to examine the interior of the ship in
more detail.  Assuming they survived whatever this other human had in store for them, there would be sufficient
time later to learn more about this oversized leviathan and its galactically cosmopolitan crew.  

Dodging around groups of chattering uniformed personnel and trying to keep up with Aeryn left John little time
to consider the only two theories he had formed to explain Nate’s presence aboard the ship.  The first
possibility was that he had been part of a mission to recreate the Farscape 1 experiment and had suffered an
identical fate.  A different entry angle would have sent the second ship careening through an entirely different
portion of the wormhole nexus, with the result that he would have been spat out somewhere other than the
Uncharted Territories.  The biggest flaw with this theory was that if this Nate person had been sent to recreate
the flight of the Farscape 1, he should have known who John Crichton was and what he looked like.  And Nate
very definitely had not recognized him.  

John put on a burst of speed to keep up with Aeryn, and wished they could slow down enough for him to
discuss his thoughts with her.  As humbling as it was to have his preconceptions filleted and handed back to
him on a platter, Aeryn rarely overlooked the portions of a situation that lay in his habitual blind spots.  

Before he could move on to considering Unpleasant Explanation #2, the constant din of chatter was drowned
out by three deafening whoops from what sounded like an alarm claxon.  Nate swerved to one side and
grabbed on to a protruding edge of some bulkhead plating.  For as far as John could see in both directions,
every single person had moved to the outsides of the passageway and were either hanging on to some portion
of the walls or lights, or had at least one arm wrapped around someone else who did.  

Nate pointed toward a half-motra section of unoccupied wall alongside a support rib.  “You’re going to want to
hold on to something, and you had better do it fast.”   

There was only one logical explanation for the claxon and the way everyone was behaving.  John jammed
himself into the corner so he was securely braced with his legs, and then wrapped both arms around Aeryn and
held on tight.  She snaked an arm behind his head and grabbed on to something behind his body.  

“Starburst,” she said, using tone of voice to turn it into both a statement and a question.  

Their noses were barely a dench apart.  It was too good an opportunity to waste.  He stole a quick kiss.  She
did not seem to mind.  The opposite, in fact. It lasted longer than he had expected.  “That’s my guess.  How you
holding up?”  

She grasped him a little tighter with the arm that was wrapped around his waist and bestowed a subdued but
contented smile on him.  “I’m fine as long as I’m with you.”      

“What do you suppose happens when something this big --”  

Later he would have time to be thankful that he had been facing toward the front of the ship instead of the rear,
since it meant that the burst of acceleration wound up slamming the thick support rib into his body instead of
abruptly moving away from him.  The other situation would have left them both suspended in midair with nothing
to cushion their impact against the nearest solid object.  At the time it happened, however, it was all he could do
not to yell with pain when the sudden increase in velocity smashed Aeryn’s body into his already-aching ribs
and then pinned his ostensibly round body into a square corner.  Luckily the entire process lasted less than ten
microts.  There was a sizzling crackling sort of a boom, a split-microt sensation of weightlessness, and then the
ride steadied out.  All that remained to let them know they were still in starburst was a deep thrumming that
emanated from the floor plates, as though a city-sized generator was located denches below their feet.    

John set Aeryn back on her feet, and then pried his way out of his corner with both elbows.  “You okay?”  

She nodded, looked up and down the passageway, and rubbed her midriff absentmindedly.  “That was
impressive.  It did not feel like a standard entry into starburst.”  

“More like a running start,” he said.  “Now I’m a little concerned about what happens when this monster comes
out of starburst.  Hope it’s not as bad as getting into it.”  

They stood side by side and watched while all around them people untangled themselves and resumed
whatever they had been doing before the claxon had sounded.  In the space of five microts the corridor looked
no different than it did prior to starburst.  

“Move it!” Nate yelled at them.  He was already at the end of the corridor, gesturing for them to catch up.  

“Rush, rush, rush,” John muttered, and then asked Aeryn, “You know where we’re going?”

“Some place located treblin side and marginally aft of mid-hull.  If this were Moya, I would say we were headed
for a hangar bay.”  

Aeryn’s assessment turned out to be correct.  They followed their guide down several vertical shafts, worked
their way cross-tier so they were approaching the leviathan’s outer hull, moving faster as the crowds of
personnel gradually thinned out, and finally emerged into an empty maintenance bay.  It was the first empty
chamber Crichton could remember seeing since they had left the closet-sized prison cell.  In light of the
uniformly crowded passageways, it seemed like a waste of available space.  

“Off limits to most personnel,” Nate said, anticipating John’s question.  

“The door is wide open,” Crichton said.  “Anyone could wander in here.”

Nate wove his way around the workbenches and several unidentifiable chunks of circuitry, headed for the
hangar doors.  “They have their orders.  Aside from gambling, drinking, farting, and fornicating, they tend to do
what they’re told … when they feel like it.”

“Soldiers, but not soldiers,” Aeryn said to John, confirming her earlier guess.  

“Resistance fighters would be a better label,” Nate yelled over the rumble of the hangar doors opening.  
“There’s only one formal military organization in this stretch of the universe, and trust me, you would not want
to join them.”  He gave the activator circuit a slap, bringing the doors to a halt, and motioned for John and
Aeryn to lead the way into the hangar.  

“Awwwwww … FRELL!” Crichton yelled the moment he passed between the huge doors.  “I knew it.  I just frelling
knew it!”  

“What’s going on?” Aeryn asked.

John stepped to one side.  Sitting half hidden in the shadows was another Farscape module, clearly not the
one that had brought them to this leviathan.  This one was larger than Crichton’s by slightly more than half, and
was far less battered and scorched.  There were no soot streaks, no pitting or fading, and the heat-resistant
ceramic fuselage looked as new as the day it had been launched, which made it easy to read the logos
emblazoned on the side.  The familiar blue and red circle with white lettering was there, except this one said
NASA instead of the more familiar IASA.  And in front of it, gleaming under the muted glow of leviathan lights,
where John’s had no decoration at all, it read “Farscape 1”.  

“Not only are we not in the right portion of the universe, Aeryn, we’re not even in the right god damn reality!  
We’ve jumped realities.”  


                                                                          * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chapter 4                                                                                                                                                                                   Chapter 6
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