Measure Of Devotion - Chapter 6

Aeryn let out the deep breath she had been holding.  It emerged in the form of a hushed guttural snarl, forced
out between tightly clenched teeth.  The small exercise in physical restraint was supposed to help get the rest
of her reactions under control.  It did not work the way she had hoped.  

Dismay, disbelief, disappointment, and several other unpleasant emotions that she could not put a name to
tangled into an overwhelming, unstoppable monster that carried the metallic flavor of fury.  Riding on the crest
of that wave was a form of grief she had never experienced before:  one that had to do with an intense
yearning to spend just one or two solar days in the relative tranquility of Moya’s tiers.  The opportunity had
been ripped away from her just as she was beginning to adjust to the reality of being returned to the safety of
Moya, and the resulting ache was urging her to do something physically violent.

It was more than losing the brief interval to rest and heal.  It was linked to the deep, dreamless sleep she had
enjoyed last night after John had convinced her that it was all right to sleep draped on top of him.  Just thinking
about lying in bed with him, feeling safe, protected, and loved, ratcheted the anger up an additional notch.  She
had been counting on at least two more such nights before they reached Katratzi, peaceful nights when she
could reacquaint herself with John Crichton and all the facets of him that she loved so much.  Standing in the
hangar bay, staring in shock at the proof that they were even more lost than they had suspected, she felt as
though that interval had been stolen from her, ripped out of her hands by a cheerful, blue-eyed thief who had
been more interested in exploring a quirk of space and energy than he had been in spending time with her.  

Logic said it was not true.  From the instant she had regained consciousness to discover that she had been
freed from the scarrans and was already in John’s arms, he had shown nothing but concern for her health and
welfare.  He had not wanted to bring her along when he went out in the module; he had argued against it.  If the
brief idyll she had hoped for had been cut short, it was her own fault.  But the cold, unadorned truth of how she
had arrived aboard this strange leviathan could not hold up against the disappointment she experienced the
moment John announced that they had been flung into an entirely different reality.   

Hurt won out over reason and restraint.  She turned on John.  

“You … IDIOT!  You were certain that was not a wormhole!  After all the cycles you’ve spent chasing after those
useless things, are you telling me now that you cannot recognize one when you are about to fly into it?”

“I told you!  That was not a wormhole!” John yelled back.  “I know wormholes the way Rygel knows his way
around the foods storage unit, and that was not a wormhole!  And I didn’t choose to fly into it, Aeryn!  Just like
every other weird spatial anomaly on this end of the universe, it reached out and gobbled me up!”  

“And me along with you!”

“Not … by … choice!” he yelled, spacing out the words with a full microt’s delay between each short syllable.  
Finished, John spun around and stalked toward the dimly gleaming spacecraft squatting in the shadows, hands
on his hips and his shoulders tucked up in the familiar position that said he was fighting to control his own
anger.  

“I should have shot you,” she said more quietly.  “I knew we should not have gone out there.”

“Hey!”  He crossed the short distance between them in three long steps and jabbed a forefinger at her, using it
to punctuate his sentences.  “I did not make this decision on my own.  I don’t remember you coming up with a
better plan!  The floor was open to suggestions, Aeryn.  The best idea you managed to come up with involved
threatening to shoot something!  It’s the Aeryn Sun solution to every crisis!  Shoot it!  Doesn’t matter if it’s
animal, mineral or vegetable, the solution is always the same!”

She slapped his hand away.  “I at least knew your plan was not going to work out the way you expected!  D’
Argo was right.  Leaving Moya was asking for trouble.”  

“And if we didn’t do what Pilot asked, Moya would have done her impression of a beached whale.  We could
have sat in that one spot until we were all old and gray, slowly driving each other absolutely frickin’ NUTS!”  
John turned on his heel and strode toward the duplicate module.

“As if this is any better!” she yelled after him.

John spun to face her.  “You’re free to leave any time you want!” he bellowed.  “Keys are in the ignition.”

Feeling impossibly juvenile and at the same time incapable of getting it to stop, she continued to yell at him.  
“Maybe I will!”  

Expending an entire lung full of air on three small words felt good.  Venting her frustration felt better.  Being
together with John and having him yell back at her instead of giving her a cold stare and walking off without a
comment felt as though she had stumbled into Cholak’s paradise.  It was a schizophrenic kind of anger:  
consisting of equal amounts pleasure and inflamed irritation, both joy and trial.  “Maybe I will!” she yelled a
second time, putting more effort into it, finding satisfaction in the release.

“Good!”

“FINE!”

“Pick up a quart of milk and some bread while you’re out!”  John flicked his hand at her, motioning her away,
and resumed his trajectory toward the duplicate module.  

Aeryn went after him, still furious but with the first twinges of interest in the look-alike module starting to replace
the worst of the anger.  “Anything else you need while I’m shopping for you?” she taunted once she caught up
to John.

“No!  Have a good time!”  

“I WILL!”  They came to a stop next to the module, turned and glared at each other, noses a scant four
denches apart.

Nate’s voice cut into the brief interval of peace.  “Hey!  Fred and Ethel!  You done arguing yet?”  

“NO!” they yelled together, followed by John’s solo bellow, “We’re barely getting started!”   

Nate had remained at the half-open hangar door, right where he had stopped when they first entered the
oversized chamber.  He had one shoulder propped nonchalantly against the dull black surface, raised
eyebrows almost hidden beneath the disorderly shock of bangs, all of which reminded Aeryn of an instructor
watching a pair of exceptionally inept recruits practicing with shock weapons:  simultaneously amused and
wary.  

“Don’t stop on my account,” he said.  “Just let me know when it’s safe to come over there.”  

“You haven’t given us our weapons back,” John said.  “We never haul off and punch total strangers.  Shooting
them is quicker and easier.”  

Aeryn used the distraction to shoulder her way in front of John.  She stretched up with one hand, intending to
grab one of the handholds and pull herself up until she could reach the step with her foot.  

“Wait,” John said, suddenly quiet.  “You’re already stiff from this morning.  Don’t make it worse.”  Both of his
hands grabbed her firmly about the hips and she was levitated upward.  Her assisted flight lasted just long
enough for her to notice the way her pelvis fit neatly into his hands, neither too large for him to grasp her
securely nor so small that he had to dig in with his fingers.  It was a comforting pressure, similar to the all
around clasp of the padded harness she had worn for arns at a time while undergoing her initial null-gravity
training.  It held the promise of protection, safeguarding her from harm, and was so perfectly designed that she
could quite happily remain within its confines all day.  

Somewhere between the hangar floor and the moment when Aeryn jammed her foot into the module’s indented
step, the anger disappeared.  She was not sure how it happened or why.  It might have been the reminder
resting beneath her hands and feet that John had been stranded in his module on several occasions over the
past cycles and had survived every time; or it might have been the realization that she was happier here,
alongside him, than she would have been if she had stayed aboard Moya and watched him disappear
into the mysterious anomaly.  For all that her current situation was infuriating, the other prospect -- wandering
Moya’s corridors arn after endless arn, unable to sleep or eat, wondering where John was and what was
happening to him -- was far worse.  If she had been given the choice in advance, she would have eagerly
accepted this particular outcome.  

John’s hands stayed with her for several additional microts, pressing firmly but with care against her lower back,
ensuring that she would not lose her balance until she located and triggered the canopy release.  He did not let
go until she had a firm grasp on the lip of the cockpit.  Aeryn stepped to the side, making the awkward transition
onto the module’s wing so he could climb up beside her.  

When she looked down to make sure he had enough room, John was no longer there.  He had begun a circuit
of the larger, newer-looking module, occasionally peering beneath it, examining the external features.  She
enjoyed watching him at moments like this, on the rare occasions when John was allowed to step back into his
natural element.  When it happened, a subtle transformation always occurred, consisting primarily of a shift in
the way he carried himself.  In spite of the black leather and the hardened, more competent movements, the
person she had met for the first time several cycles earlier always seemed to emerge:  eager, enthusiastic,
delighting in the pursuit of new knowledge, concentrating more on what was going on inside his head than what
his body was doing.   

On this particular day she caught a glimpse of the Earth-trained pilot he had been before his fateful mission,
one who was performing a preflight inspection similar to the checks she always performed on the Prowler
before taking it out.  She tried to envision what he might have looked like then:  a few cycles younger, blissfully
unaware of the cruelties that lay ahead, possibly dressed in a uniform, with Earth’s yellow sun beating down on
him as he inspected the ship he had designed and helped build.  A mixture of past and present, old habits
overlain with new behaviors, moved around the nose of the module and began a methodical journey down the
far side, hands drifting lightly along the gleaming hull.  

John came to a stop at the front of the wing.  Glancing over his shoulder to make sure Aeryn was watching, he
pointed at the smooth, unbroken surface.  There were no hinges.  Unlike his module, the wings on this one
would not fold upward.  All he offered in the way of commentary was, “Fixed.”  

“So what?” Nate asked.  He had left his spot by the door and was drifting along behind Crichton.  

“How did you get it in the shuttle?” John asked.  

Nate blinked several times, looked at Aeryn, and then looked back at John.  “What shuttle?”   

“Never mind.  Wrong universe.”  John shook his head and continued the inspection, gradually working his way
around the tail and back toward where Aeryn was standing on top of the second wing.  He jerked a thumb over
his shoulder, indicating Nate.  “You do realize this bastard knew we didn’t belong in this universe right from the
first moment his trusty blue sidekick summoned him to look at my module, and he was going to shoot us
anyway.  Right?”  

“That occurred to me.”  For several microts the image of John collapsing to the hangar floor seemed more real
to Aeryn than her current surroundings.  The aching knot in her stomach and the unpleasant chill lodged
between her shoulder blades were every bit as intense as when she had originally felt the sensations.  Fury
made a vigorous attempt at an encore.  Aeryn fought it down, for once thankful that she was not armed.  If she
had been standing closer to Nate, the urge to lash out might have more than she could resist.  

Their host did not seem perturbed by the anger aimed in his direction.  If anything, he looked as though he had
been expecting it.  “The motherfu--”  Nate stopped short, glanced guiltily at Aeryn, and then started over.  “The
force we’re up against has tried infiltrating this command several times.  We couldn’t take a chance that they
had come up with something new.”   

“Shoot first, oops later?  Hell of a way to greet people,” John said.  “You’ll never win over the neighbors that
way.”  

“I’m not interested in winning over my damned neighbors.  Shoot first works just fine in this part of the
universe.”  

Nate’s reply held a new tone, one that Aeryn had not heard in his voice up until that particular moment.  She
had detected anger, aggression, and caution while he was talking to them in their storage closet prison cell,
and had already seen the same light-hearted humor that John continued to display even after surviving four
cycles at this end of the universe.  What she had not heard or observed so far was the emotion lacing his latest
comment:  Hate.  She watched the two humans finish the inspection, seeing more than a few similarities in the
way they moved and behaved, and wondered about the sorts of people and events Nate had encountered
since he had emerged from his version of a wormhole.  Any conclusions she might have reached were
interrupted by John’s arrival beside her.  External inspection completed, John pulled himself up so he was
perched next to Aeryn, giving him his first look at the interior.

“Two seater,” he said immediately.  

“Pilot in the front, brains in the back,” Nate explained.  

“That would make this my spot.”  Aeryn slid into the rear seat.  

John stayed where he was, clinging to the outside of the module.  “What happened to that whole superior pilot
thing you’ve been flogging me over the head with for the last four cycles?”

Without a word, Aeryn got to her feet, stepped carefully over the bank of instrumentation packed into the limited
space in the rear of the cockpit, and dropped into the front seat with a quiet whoosh of air from the seat
cushions.  

“That’s what I thought.”  John made the vaulting transition from the recessed step to the back seat in one
bounding leap.  

Nate leaned on the nose of the craft, propped his chin on top of crossed forearms, and watched them as they
examined the interior of his ship.  

Aeryn flipped the main power breaker to the on position.  The instrumentation and display screens came to life.  
“The controls are identical to how yours used to look.”  

“Mmmm,” John agreed from the back seat.  “No hetch drive though, and no biomechanoid circuity or power
cells.”

“I was just the chauffeur,” Nate called to them.  “The front seat is mine.  Someone else was in back.  I
understand enough to do preflight and make sure it’s space worthy, and that’s about it.  Installing a hetch drive
in the golf cart is way down on our resident mechanic’s to-do list.”       

“You don’t know anything about wormholes,” John said, sounding thoughtful.  “So you’re stuck here.”  

Nate made a half-shrugging, half-nodding motion, suddenly reticent about his past.  “Correct.”  

John jumped down from the module’s cockpit, then turned and extended a hand to Aeryn, steadying her
descent.  When they were both securely on the hangar floor he turned to address Nate.  “Great!  We’ve had
the grand tour, and now you know we don’t belong here!  Take us back to where you picked us up, let us hop
back in our own ship, and stuff us back down the rabbit hole so we can go home.”  

Nate motioned for them to leave the hangar, herding them back through the doors.  “It’s not that simple,” he
began.  

“Why not?” John and Aeryn asked together.

“Because the rabbit hole isn’t there anymore.”  

“Crap,” John said.  “Ask me how I knew that was coming.  Where is it?”

Nate hesitated for more than ten microts, clearly debating whether to confide in them, before admitting, “It’s
right here with us.”  He gestured toward the off-limits maintenance bay and its assorted chunks of electronics.  
“It’s an experimental project we’ve been working on.”

“Turn it on and let us go back where we belong,” Aeryn said.  

Nate slapped the circuit that triggered the hangar door mechanism.  Everyone waited while the doors rumbled
shut.  He shrugged, looking inexplicably embarrassed.  “We can’t.  It doesn’t work very well.  It’s erratic as all
hell and totally unpredictable, which is why we were somewhere else while the test was being conducted.”  

Aeryn said, “The small ship we saw docking.  You were coming back to pick it up.”  

“We didn’t realize the device had worked at all until Kaillin got a look at your ship,” said Nate.  “The thing is so
unstable, the only safe way to test it is to drop off an unmanned craft that’s programmed to run a series of tests
and collect data, and then come back to pick it up.”  

“Your new toy was working all right,” John said.  “It was punching into our universe at random.  It was our bad
luck that random happened to be right in our path.  It was --”  He turned in a circle, running a fast glance over
the equipment scattered around the maintenance bay.  Aeryn watched with rapt interest, having recognized the
look John frequently got whenever all the pieces of a galaxy-sized puzzle were falling into place inside his mind.  
“Parallel universes!  You’re working on an interdimensional gateway of some type!  You’re trying to jump into
alternate realities.”

Nate took the exclamation in stride.  “We call the openings rifts … interdimensional rifts.  We didn’t intend to use
it to travel from one universe to another.  You winding up here wasn’t part of the plan.”  

John said, “Rift, tear, corridor, storm drain, butt crack:  it doesn’t matter what you call it.  We don’t need one of
your rifts to get back where we belong.  Just drop us off at the nearest wormhole and I should be able to slither
our way home on our own.”  

Aeryn stepped in front of John, forcing the excited movements and gestures to come to a stop.  “The last time
you tried that, you didn’t wind up where you planned.”

“I’m getting better at it.  The alternative is staying here … wherever here is!”

“And if you get it wrong?  Again?  Where will that leave us this time?”

“Excuse me!” Nate broke in.  “Before you launch into another family love fest, let me point out that no one here
knows how to find a wormhole, least of all me.  Unless you have a Triple-A map with the entrance ramps clearly
marked and numbered, there isn’t going to be any dropping you off anywhere.”  

Before either of the men could say anything more, Aeryn interrupted with a new question.  She had been
considering the presence of the look-alike Farscape module and the two humans ever since Nate had claimed
that he did not have the skills or knowledge necessary to modify the module’s systems.  His latest stream of
intermittently unintelligible English, so similar to the sorts of comments that would pour out of Crichton -- usually
at the most inopportune moments -- triggered the thought that had been escaping her grasp for some time.  
“John, if this is an unrealized universe, shouldn’t he be you?”  

“It’s not a given.  If I never got interested in physics, things might have turned out differently.”

“The Farscape project was your theory,” she said, still confused by the combination of discrepancies and
similarities.  “How can he be here without you?”

“It’s just science.  It doesn’t need me for it to work.  If my parents had dropped me on my head one time too
often when I was little, I might never have made it into MIT or come up with the theoretical basis for the
Farscape project.  Sooner or later, someone was going to figure it out.  All I did was beat everyone to it.  In this
reality, I’m probably on Earth flipping burgers or practicing psychology, and someone else came up with the
theory.  Him.”  

Nate waved a hand in the direction of the hangar doors, indicating the larger-sized module parked out of sight
on the other side of the barrier.  “Not me, brother.  I already told you:  I was nothing more than the driver.”  

“None of this” -- Aeryn gestured toward the maintenance bay and the hangar doors -- “seems to bother you.  
Our presence here does not seem to bother you.”  

Nate scrubbed at his scalp for several moments.  The rough massage left even the normally less unruly
sections of his hair standing on end.  It created a mildly astonished look that did not fade when his expression
shifted.  “After everything I’ve been through over the last few years, having someone show up from a parallel
universe doesn’t seem all that strange.  Plus I’ve got advanced training in coping with the unexpected.”  

John eyed him warily.  “NASA pilot training.”  

“Yup!  Among other things.”  Nate grinned at him, clearly expecting something more.

John ventured a guess.  “Military though, not civilian.”

“You got it.”  

“Air Force or Navy?”  

“Neither.  Lieutenant Colonel Nate Grissom, Hornet driver, U.S. Marines, at your service.”  

“Good god.  It doesn’t get any worse than that.”  

“John,” Aeryn said.  In the space of a few microts, the conversation had shifted from merely confusing to total
gibberish.  

He turned toward her before she could ask him to translate the more baffling portions.  “You’re going to like this
guy a lot.  With the exception of the Hell’s Angels, his outfit is about as close to the Pleisars as Earth has to
offer.  The two of you can sit around for arns swapping stories about shooting people and blowing things up.”

“Hornet driver,” she said next, repeating an especially baffling portion of the fast exchange between the two
men.  “I thought a hornet was some kind of insect.”

“Also the name for a military airplane,” John said.  “Think Prowler built for flying in the atmosphere.  Supersonic,
lots of missiles, one pilot.  Goes fast, stops short, lands on boats.  It’s right up your alley, Aeryn.”

“Ply-sar?” Grissom asked next, trying out what was obviously a new word for him.

John provided yet another succinct explanation.  “Regiment within the Peacekeepers.”  

“Peace keepers?  You mean like U.N. troops?” Nate said.  

Aeryn’s voice was soft and low, delivering a hushed insight meant for John’s ears only.  “There are no
Peacekeepers here.”  She asked more loudly, “Sebacean military?”

Nate made a fast, dismissive gesture with both hands.  “No such critter.  Sebaceans are peaceful folk.  They’re
mostly farmers and artisans, with a few religious mystics thrown in just to keep things from getting boring.  The
nebari had the beginnings of a defense force pulled together at one point, but they got their asses kicked
about two hundred years ago and never recovered.”  

John looked toward Aeryn, raised eyebrows asking her if she had any additional input.  When she gave him a
shrug and a minimal shake of the head for an answer, he swiveled back toward Nate.  “Then who are you
fighting?  Who are the bad guys?”

Their host’s expression switched from an amiable grin to a wary grimace in under a microt.  It stayed that way
for about two microts, then eased back into something friendlier, but no less cautious.  “That,” he said slowly,
“is going to have to wait until I get a better idea of who you are.  I don’t know the first thing about your
allegiances or how stuff works in your universe.”  

Anything Aeryn had intended to say was pre-empted by a series of quiet chiming tones that, as far as she could
tell, emanated from the walls themselves.  

“Coming out of starburst,” Grissom said.  “Relax.  It’s nothing like entry into it.”  

Both Aeryn and John grabbed on to a workbench anyway.  It wasn’t necessary.  The transition from starburst to
normal space was every bit as anti-climatic as their entry had been awe-inspiring.  A quiet susurrence ran from
one end of the maintenance bay to the other, as though the leviathan itself was exhaling, a mild tremor was
transmitted through her boot soles, triggering an irritating itch under the arch of each foot, and then it was
over.  By the time they relaxed their grip, Grissom, who had not bothered to brace himself, was already half way
to the door.     

“Long starburst,” John said.  “That had to be over half an arn.”  

“You can expect a longer one in a few hours,” Nate said.  “We’ve got a long way to go, and we’re in a bit of a
hurry.”

John ushered Aeryn forward so she was following Nate, and then fell in behind her.  “That’s a load of dren.  
You’re in so much of a hurry you decided to stop along the way to pick up your automated space guinea pig!  
You’re taking us on along on your magical mystery tour whether we want to come or not, and in the meantime,
you’re feeding us half truths and outright lies.  How about a little human-to-human honesty here!”  

Nate stopped walking.  “Look --”  He paused long enough to scratch at a spot behind his right ear, took a deep
breath, and started over.  “It’s been four years since I’ve been around anyone who understands the things I talk
about.”

“I know the feeling,” John said.  

Nate ignored the interruption.  “Part of me wants to treat you like a long lost brother.  Every time I open my
mouth there are half a dozen things I want to tell you.  But I don’t know you, and I can’t trust you with some of
the things that are going on here.  Not yet.  Not until I find out a little more about what you know about the
Uncharted Territories and what’s going on in this little corner of the universe.”

John held both arms out to the sides.  “Trust your instincts.  I’m lovable, loyal, and trustworthy.  What more do
you need to know?”

“Depending on the person you ask, the last two might be right,” Aeryn said.  “The first one is still in question.”    

Nate laughed.  “That actually tells me more than you might think.  Just the same, we need to take this slow.  
The two of you get very furtive and sneaky from time to time.  You trust me just as much as I trust you.”  

“Gut says yes, head says no,” John said.  

“Precisely.”  Nate motioned for them to follow and set off through the corridors again.  

“Time and patience,” Aeryn suggested.

Nate glanced at her over his shoulder, eyebrows raised in surprise.  “That’s Kaillin’s favorite phrase.  I swear he
chants it in his sleep.”  

John said, “It’s a delvian thing.  We knew someone who recommended it as Dr. Feelgood’s remedy for every
ailment.”  

“Knew,” Nate repeated, emphasizing the past tense.  

“Long story,” John said.  

Nate raised both hands in the air, silently exclaiming that something he had been waiting for had just arrived.  
“There you go again.  Keeping secrets.”  

“No,” John said, drawing the word out over the space of several microts.  “It’s just that it is a very long,
complicated, confusing story.  If you want to pull up a couple of armchairs, make yourself comfortable and pass
around the tea and crumpets, we’ll tell you about it.  You told us you were in a hurry.”  

Aeryn slowed, allowing the two men to get ahead of her by several motras.  The small amount of distance,
combined with the constant low-level racket in the corridors, was enough to shut out what was turning into an
irritating contest between Grissom and Crichton to prove which of them could be more stubborn.  She drifted
along behind them, using the time to study her surroundings.  They had passed out of one of the smaller
corridors running cross-ship into what she was certain was the primary fore-aft passageway.  It was twice the
width of any of Moya’s corridors, and once again it was jammed with personnel, both moving and stationary.  
There were also stacks of equipment lashed into place between every set of ribs, and cloth bundles that Aeryn
assumed were personal gear bags were lined up end to end along both sides of corridor for as far as she could
see.  If the Command Carrier she had grown up on had been ordered to transport four or five times as many
personnel as it was designed to hold, its hallways might have looked similar to this leviathan.  

The mental comparison triggered a number of possible explanations for the overcrowding that she would have
liked to discuss with John.  But by that time he and Nate were far enough ahead of her that she was losing sight
of them for tens of microts at a time.  They were drawing farther away with every step, moving much faster than
her leisurely stroll.  No one was paying any attention to her at all.  If she had chosen to veer into one of the
passageways or maintenance shafts branching off to either side of the main corridor, she doubted that anyone,
least of all Crichton or Grissom, would have noticed.  Aeryn had not learned enough about Grissom or his crew
yet to decide if that was a good sign -- indicating that he had begun to trust them -- or further proof that he
did not have any reason to fear their presence.  

Any additional conclusions would have to wait.  John and Nate had reversed course.  They reached her in a
matter of microts.

“What’s going on?” she asked.

John held up three fingers.  “No clue.  One microt we were going that way” -- he pointed toward where they had
been headed -- “the next microt we’re going that way.”  A second fast wave of his hand indicated the portion of
the corridor they had just traversed.  

“Because --” Aeryn prompted.  

“Because the wind changed direction, or we made a sudden course adjustment, or maybe the gravity is a little
stronger in this section of the ship and it sucked us back to this particular spot!  I don’t know Aeryn.  He just
turned around for no reason I could see.”   

“Kaillin is two tiers above this one,” Grissom called over his shoulder.  He veered toward one of the ladders that
pierced the tier at regular intervals.  “He wants to talk to me about something.”

A microt later, as though summoned by Grissom’s mention of him, Kaillin dropped through the opening over
their heads, ignoring the more standard method of descent via the ladder, shifted sideways at the precise
moment necessary to stop his freefall, and landed next to the threesome without so much as a grunt.  

“You want to try that?” John said to Aeryn in awe.  “I’d miss the floor and keep right on going.”

“Not unless I’m feeling suicidal,” she said.  

Nate threw one of his fast, flashing grins in their direction.  “It’s a delvian thing.  No one else on board has the
balls to learn how they do it.  The learning curve is too steep.”  

“So is the drop off,” John said, peering downshaft.  

Aeryn joined him.  She was able to make out sixteen tiers before the details blurred into a repetitive,
indistinguishable theme of alternating light and dark concentric circles.  Starting the descent would not be the
problem; transitioning sideways at the precise moment necessary for a landing would be the hardest part of the
trick.  And the timing would become more critical the farther they fell since their velocity would increase with
each additional tier.  Her stomach twisted at the thought of getting a leg tangled in one of the rungs of the
ladder.  She wondered if the delvians started near the bottom of the leviathan and worked their way up as they
gained experience, or if they had some sort of training area where mistakes would not be lethal.  

Kaillin gave them a calm but not unfriendly look before transferring his attention to Nate.  “We need the hangar
bay for drills.”  

“You didn’t need to chase me down to tell me that,” Nate said.  “You’re checking up on me again.”

“Your leadership is critical at this juncture.”

“Yeah.  I know.  What you’re really saying is I’m not allowed to get my ass shot off until our little soiree is over,
after which I’ll be expendable.”  Turning toward John and Aeryn, he said, “You’ll have to paddle your dingy to
another berth.  Put it in with mine.  I need to be somewhere else right now.  Can you find your way to the
hangar bay without a guide?”

“Yes,” Aeryn said.  “We need to cut almost directly across this level, working aft no more than five sectors in the
process.  I’m not sure how many tiers we have to drop down though.  No more than three.”   

“Close.  Back four junctions, down two tiers.”  Nate’s gaze shifted toward John, widened eyes paying tribute to
Aeryn’s ability to remain oriented inside the huge ship.  “She’s good.”

“You have no idea.  I’ll tell you just how good she is when we have time.”  

“It’s a date.  I believe you when you say you can find your way, but just in case, let me make sure.”  He looked
up at the ceiling, gazed into nothingness for several microts, and then spoke to thin air.  “We have two
friendlies crossing middeck, moving from starboard to port.  Destination is Hangar Bay Six.  Make sure they get
there without difficulty.”  He waited another two microts then nodded with satisfaction.  “All hands are alerted.  
You shouldn’t get shot more than once or twice.”

“So kind of you,” John drawled.  “Open comms?”

Nate gave him a peculiar look -- once that suggested Crichton had said something in a language that he did
not entirely understand.  “Something like that.  Look, I know there’s a lot for us to compare and for you to figure
out, but we’ve got some major league crap coming up which means that the good old times bull session is going
to have to wait.  Once this thing is over, we’ll either have plenty of time to sort everything out or it won’t matter
because we’ll all be dead.  Stay out of the way the best you can and I’ll think about letting you in on some of the
secrets.”  

“We can do a better job of staying out of your way if you tell us what is going on,” Aeryn said.  

“I’ll think about it.  For now, go move the golf cart.”  

John opened his mouth to protest the fast dismissal.  “Later,” Nate said.  “Don’t tempt me into changing my
mind about shoving you out an airlock.”  

Crichton subsided, looking accepting of the pronouncement and frustrated at the same time, and nodded.  “Are
we in a rush?” he asked.  

All three of them looked to Kaillin for the answer.  The delvian said, “First units are scheduled in three hours.”  

Nate bestowed a thin, humorless looking smile on Kaillin.  “Always worrying, always taking extra precautions.”  
He turned toward John and Aeryn.  “He’s making sure you don’t see what we’re doing.”  

Kaillin’s composure remained intact despite the implied criticism.  “My vigilance --” he began.

“-- has hauled my sorry ass out of more sticky situations than I care to remember, and kept all of us from
getting blown to smithereens countless times,” Grissom finished.  He clapped the delvian on the shoulder.  
“Don’t ever stop.”  Motioning for Kaillin to lead the way up a vertical access shaft, he stepped lithely onto the
ladder once there was room.  He paused long enough to say, “Get moving.  I’ll find you later,” and then
disappeared from sight.  


                                                                           * ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *
Chapter 5                                                                                                                                                                                   Chapter 7
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