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Crashfic / Chapter 11
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 09, 2016, 08:35:54 PM »
Chapter 11

John was sleeping so peacefully Aeryn almost did not have the resolve to wake him.  Despite the constant improvement in his condition, much of his rest continued to be disturbed by muscle cramps, pain, or the delvians’ frequent adjustments to his healing nervous system.  It did not seem right to wake him deliberately.  This particular morning he was burrowed into the pillow with a small lingering smile on his face, sleeping soundly even after a full night’s undisturbed rest.  Her quiet movements around the room as she changed into her own clothes did not break into his slumber, leaving Aeryn with the unpleasant task of waking him up in order to tell him what they had all agreed had to be done … whether they liked it or not. 

“John,” she said softly. 

He took in a breath, let it out on the sort of sigh that only came from someone who was asleep, and then squirmed further into the blankets, burying his face deeper into the pillow. 

“John, I need to talk to you.” 

“’ryn?”  His head came up, eyes half open as he struggled up from the depths.  He devoted several microts to clearing his throat.  “Sure.  Whaddya need?”  He wriggled a bit, struggling to shift his upper body so he could look at her.  She helped him turn onto his side, and then tugged another pillow under his head, taking some of the strain off the recalcitrant muscles. 

“We need to leave this moon for a little while.  Moya and Pilot are concerned about some scans that have been sweeping this part of the solar system.  We are going to go back aboard and make sure everything is all right.”  Aeryn waited for any type of response, either verbal or physical, giving him time to first make sense of what she had told him and then let her know he understood.  Anything but short statements strained his recovering storehouse of terms. 

After several microts, John said, “H’okay.  Tha’s good.  I get t’ see M’ya.” 

“John.”  Aeryn took a deep breath, bracing herself for what had to be done.  “We have been discussing this ever since Pilot commed us.  This sounds like real trouble, the type of trouble that always seems to find us.”  She waited for comprehension to show on his face, mentally lecturing herself to be direct in order to get it over with quickly.  “We think it would be best if you stay here with Meylan and the delvians until you’ve had more time to get better.” 

“I want go wih you.  Won’ get in way,” he said, immediately resorting to lopping words out of his sentences in an effort to get the thoughts out more quickly. 

“We are not worried about you getting in the way.  We know you won’t do that.  We are worried that you might get hurt.”  She clipped off the word ‘again’ at the last instant.

“So I got stay wid Nice People?” 

“We think this would be best; it would be safest for all of us.”  Despite the reassurance, he did not look happy.  Aeryn ran a thumb across the one eyebrow she could reach, shifting back to his temple to smooth his hair back repeatedly, hoping it would calm him.  “We promise we will be back for you.  By then you will be able to walk and take care of yourself.” 

John buried his face in the pillow, scrubbing down into the padding long enough that she suspected he was crying. 

“Do you want the others to come say goodbye before we leave?” Aeryn asked.

He shook his head, mumbling into the pillow. 

“I couldn’t understand that,” she said.  “Come here and talk to me.” 

“I wan’ go wid you.”  Although John reappeared dry-eyed, the low-pitched guttural tone of his voice suggested that his emotions were getting the best of him.  It quickly became apparent that his efforts to stay in control were succumbing to his growing depression.  A look of mere anxiety shifted into sorrow, and from there it transformed into a fully evolved version of the look he got when he was battling the type of fear generated by a comprehensive lack of understanding.  He was about to say something more when Lorana entered the room.  The priest glided forward with the distinctive delvian gait that was so smooth she seemed to float across the short distance from the door to the bunk.  John looked up at her, face wiped clean of emotion. 

“We have promised your friends that you will be able to leap tall buildings at a single bounce by the time they return.”  Lorana glanced at Aeryn, verifying that she had delivered the prepared phrase correctly.   

“I don’ need jump over houses.  Tha’s stupid.”  John rocked to one side, struggling to roll on to his back.  Aeryn started to help him.  “Don’t!” he said angrily.  He continued his solitary battle, eventually giving up when his body refused to cooperate.  “Fine.  I can’t care m’self.  Go.”  He let his muscles relax, allowing his body to sag back onto the bunk so he was on his stomach again, and turned his head away from her.  “I be here.” 

“John --”  Aeryn wanted to hug him goodbye.  She wanted to find out if he remembered the gentle, spine tingling kisses yet, wanted to feel the warmth of his body against hers before she left, and felt completely incapable of asking him to let her turn him over as long as Lorana was standing there.  “We will be back soon.  I promise.” 

She stopped at the door, close to relenting.  She looked back at the slender delvian standing over the motionless figure buried under the thermal covers, discouraged that this would be the last memory she had of him until they could return to the colony.  So many of their planned rendezvous’ had gone awry during the past cycles; she could not rule out that it would not happen this time as well.  Her thoughts spiraled inward, devolving into the single fear that they might not be able to get back to retrieve John as quickly as they had vowed.  He would be stranded here until they returned, cut off from everything and everyone he had ever known, his mind a perpetual blank without the reminders that would allow him to put his memories back together.

It was possible that she would return to find an entirely different person who was not interested in resuming his life as John Crichton, mislaid astronaut.  There was no telling what the effect of being stranded in a delvian community would have on the predominantly blank psyche.  If his memories were overwritten until they consisted of little more than meditation and pursuit of the Delvian Seek, would he find Unity with like-minded souls a more attractive future than being hounded across the galaxy by a variety of heartless, power-hungry species?  That John loved her with ever fiber of his soul could never be called into question, but that might not be enough to lure him away from an existence that enticed him with peace. 

Aeryn continued to hesitate, standing half in and half out of the door to his room.  In the end however, it was John himself who convinced her to stick with her original decision.  It was the unnaturally still body, incapable of getting out of bed or even rolling over on his own that convinced her that the decision to leave him behind was the correct one.  He had survived an exceptional amount of abuse over the past several cycles.  This last experience had very nearly been too much, and not just physically.  His grip on sanity was as yet too tenuous to put him at risk of more violence.  It was during the first of what had become daily visits in the pool -- where John could communicate with her without the hindrance of language getting in the way -- that she had come across a highly unwelcome set of thoughts buried deep in John’s psyche. 

The quiet dreaming place continued to beckon to him.

He had done an admirable job of burying the longing.  It was only because they had inadvertently slipped into Unity one afternoon that she had discovered the lingering desire to resume that senseless and yet relaxing destruction of all rational thought.  The quiet dreaming place represented a new kind of freedom to him, one that no instrument of torture could usurp.  Once enraptured in the blizzard of disorganized thoughts, there was nothing to do except let the images flow around him and occasionally sleep.  There was no heartache, no pain, no fear, and no confusion in the quiet dreaming place.  There was only a whirlwind of disjointed memories, and the single requirement that he do absolutely nothing.  At this point he had no true desire to go back, that much was clear.  But Aeryn feared that it might take something as little as knowing that Scorpius or the Peacekeepers had located them to drive John into the arms of that unqualified safety.  John had to be protected long enough for him to rebuild the strength to resist not only life’s tragedies, but the lure of the quiet dreaming place as well.   

Lorana watched the silent, internal debate without commenting.  It was not until Aeryn gave a little nod, reaffirming her original decision, that the Pa’u spoke.  “We will take very good care of John Crichton,” the priest assured her. 

Aeryn gave a second nod, this time in response to Lorana’s reassuring smile, and hurried out the door before she changed her mind.

* * * * *

John listened to the footsteps fading down the hallway and remembered the clatter of a currency chip hitting the floor.  His mind replayed the wobbling vibrations as a coin spun down and rattled to a stop.  He could not remember when he had heard the noise before, but his depression swelled to fill his entire chest, increasing to the point that he thought he might throw up.  Lorana was asking him if he needed anything.  The only thing he needed was walking away from him wrapped in a promise he was not sure she could keep.   

“C’n I be ‘lone for while?” he asked. 

He was on the verge of crying again, feeling completely abandoned.  An isolated memory of hanging alone in space rocketed into his mind, but even that did not carry the same feeling of desolation that was overwhelming him now.  He turned his head, checking on the delvian.  She had left him alone as he had asked.  John squirmed in the bunk, grunting with the effort that it took to get his torso rocked up on one side, panting harder as he jerked one shoulder and arm repeatedly until the useless limb shifted across his ribs to slump onto the mattress behind him.  His shoulders went with it, pulling him over on his back at last.  He did not care that it left his legs and hips twisted uncomfortably.  He had rolled over on his own, and aside from being progress, it made it easier to breathe. 

He considered his situation, free of the light-headedness that sometimes occurred when his anxiety demanded more air than his lungs could normally provide.  He knew that the delvians would take care of him.  They smiled and were kind to him, but they were strangers, not family.  There were no memories of them in the void that his past had become.  When Aeryn and D’Argo and the others were around he could feel the connection to his missing history, small bits of information swirling around in the muddled mess of his mind, touching him with the promise that he would eventually remember his life. 

He would have to feel the empty confusion all the time if he stayed here -- day and night.  He would have to rely on his own faulty recall to keep his friends in his life until they returned. 

If they returned. 

The memory of what had happened after that ratting coin had settled to the floor attached itself to the incident like another car coupling onto the end of a freight train, and the sense of dread was complete.  The final outcome was missing, but the events of the subsequent arn were as clear as if it had just happened to him.  John wriggled sideways until his head dropped off the pillow.  The new position made it even easier to breathe than simply lying on his back.  It took several fast breaths to work enough air into his lungs, building up to the sound he desperately needed to make. 

* * * * *

Aeryn walked slowly to join the others where they waited at the end of the corridor.  She slid down the wall to sit at their feet when she reached them, staring at the smooth surface on the far side of the hallway, feeling like a traitor for the first time since she left the Peacekeepers. 

“This was almost the worst thing I’ve ever had to do,” she said.  She thought about John’s fragile grip on his own behavior, his perpetual confusion that never eased unless someone was helping him with his recall, and reconsidered her statement.  “No, that was absolutely the worst thing I’ve ever had to do.” 

“We agreed that this was safer for all of us, Aeryn.  And safer for John, too.”  The warrior stared morosely back up the corridor toward the door to Crichton’s room.   

“He didn’t care about that, D’Argo.  All he heard was that he was getting left behind.  Why don’t you go in there and try to explain it to him?”  She gestured angrily toward the door at the end of the hallway.  “Door’s still open.  Help yourself.” 

“That is not what I meant and I do not like this any better than you do.  I’m not happy about leaving him, and I don’t envy you having to tell him.”  He squatted next to her.  “I’m sorry you had to be the one to tell him, Aeryn, but you know he would not have listened to the rest of us without checking with you anyway.”   

“None of us are happy about it,” Chiana added.  “But we all agreed that if we ran into trouble this would be safer for Crichton.  He’s been through enough already.”  She watched Rygel start to open his mouth, his stubby body relaxing back in his chair with an arrogant demeanor.  “Shut up, Rygel,” she commanded before he could speak. 

Aeryn got to her feet, moving slowly past the others.  “I hate this.  Let’s get out of here before we change …” 

“AERRYYYYNNNN!”  The panic in the scream bursting out of the open doorway was complete, lacking any hint of emotional control.  “DON’ LEAVE ME HERE!”

D’Argo was forced to move fast in order to get out of Aeryn’s way.  She had spun around and started toward John’s room before the first notes of his desperate plea had begun to fade.  She completed five fast steps toward the doorway before pulling up short.  Everyone watched sympathetically as she turned from one end of the hallway to the other several times in conflict, and then looked back at the assembled group, her feet still easing slowly toward the room.  After several additional microts of indecision she finally returned to her spot sitting on the floor, her arms wrapped tightly around her ribs, holding herself as securely as she wanted to be holding John at that moment. 

“Now what do I do?” she asked the others as she started to shake.  Aeryn looked toward the open door and added the part that was generating the greatest portion of her agony.  “I cannot walk away from him.  Not again.”

“We cannot take him into another situation where he might get hurt,” D’Argo insisted.  “John has been through too much already.” 

Chiana nodded. 

“AERYYYYYYNNNNNNN!!!!”  The second scream managed to pack even more panic into the drawn out syllables.  “P’EEEEEEASE.  Don’d leave me here!!!”  A sob echoed down the hallway.  The group remained silent, waiting as one to see if the desperate pleas had ended. 

“I left him before,” Aeryn whispered.  “I know he is going to remember that.  It is unavoidable.  I cannot do that again.”  She lowered her forehead to rest against her knees.  “I cannot do that to John a second time.  I can’t.  Not the way he is now.  He needs us too much.”   

“Aeryn?!!” the tear-thickened voice called, testing to see if she was there.  “AERYN?!!” he screamed again, this time with the anguish that comes with the knowledge that the summons will go unanswered. 

She shook her head, rocking it against her knees, refusing to look up at the others where they stood around her.  “He will get killed this time,” she said, contradicting her earlier statement.  “If we run into trouble before he has recovered more fully, he is going to get killed.”

They waited as Aeryn worked her way through her dilemma, weighing the possibility of physical injury against the certainty of emotional damage.  “Let’s go get him,” she conceded.  “We can’t leave him here.” 

“Yes!”  Chiana bounded away from them, headed back to the open door at a run.  “We’re coming back for you, Old Man!” she shouted.  “You’re coming with us.”

“PIH?” he yelled back.  “You come ged me?” 

“We’re coming, Crichton.  You’re going to come with us.”  She sprinted the final motra and barged into his room where she was greeted by a wordless yell of pure relief. 

Aeryn looked at the collection of smiles ranged around her.  “We know this is the wrong decision.  Why are we so pleased?” 

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” Jool admitted.  “It might make an interesting study to examine how we talked ourselves into thinking we should leave him in the first place though.” 

“I’ll comm Pilot and let him know that it will be a little longer before we come back on board,” D’Argo suggested.  “And I’ll find out if there has been any change in those scans.” 

Aeryn nodded and went light-heartedly to apologize to John for scaring him. 

* * * * *

“You’re sure you’re not mad at me anymore?” she asked an arn later.  John nodded vigorously.  “I don’t mind if you’re mad at me.  You can still come with us even if you’re angry.” 

Nothing she had coped with over the past days had prepared her to handle his huge mood swings.  The mercurial changes were testing her ability to react to a gamut of emotions in a short time span.  D’Argo continued to assure her that no one was ever ready to be a parent until they actually had children, ignoring her objections that she was not a mother and John was not a child.  D’Argo had insisted that she was wrong about that, at least until Crichton had recovered more fully.  She looked into the smiling eyes and knew for certain that D’Argo was wrong, seeing only the man and none of the temporary immaturity.   

“Don’t care ‘bout what you say a‘fore.  I get go wid you guys.”  He was on his back, a position he normally did not like, and it seemed to be allowing him to breathe and talk more easily than when he was on his stomach.  “Le’s go!” 

Aeryn slid a hip on to his bunk and lay down beside him, thinking of the embrace she had wanted before leaving his room earlier.  “I want something first,” she told him.  She eased over his chest, trying not to put too much weight on the overworked muscles, laid her head on his shoulder and hugged him fiercely.  He snuggled his nose into the hollow of her shoulder and sighed contentedly.  A microt later, Aeryn jumped as something touched the back of her shoulder.  She started to turn around to see who was behind her, expecting to see one of the delvians.  But it was John’s hand resting against her back, requiring that he lift his entire arm to get it there. 


“Come back ‘ere,” John told her in a tone so like his old self she found herself of the verge of tears.  “I like tha’.  We done tha’ ‘fore?”  His laugh originated somewhere near the back of his throat, a sound from the familiar John Crichton that she missed so much, overriding the dismay she felt every time she listened to his clipped, damaged speech.

“Look at you,” she whispered enthusiastically into his shoulder, “you’re doing great.”  She hugged him again, worming her way closer to his body.  A single thumb rubbed the back of her shoulder; a small stroking that represented a huge step forward in his recovery. 

“Rather look a’ you.” 

* * * * *

The door to John’s room opened halfway.  The gap was just large enough for a slim gray hand to pass a pile of clothes through, followed by a gleaming, pristinely new pair of boots.  Aeryn took the collection, juggling the unwieldy bundle, and then dropped the entire collection on the floor when she tried to grab the black jacket that came through last.  “Thank you, Chiana,” she said, annoyed enough at both Chiana and her own clumsiness that she was unable to keep the irritation out of her voice.  “That should do it.” 

“You’re welcome!”  The reply floated in on a laugh.  Aeryn chose to assume that it was something other than her own fumbling reception of the clothing causing the nebari’s good humor.  Everyone seemed to be in particularly good spirits as a result of their revised decision to take John back to Moya with them. 

The delvians had agreed that there was little left that they could do for John that could not be accomplished on board the leviathan.  Daaren and his apprentices had checked him over one last time, declaring that they could find no more adjustments to make for the ninth inspection in a row.  Crichton was ‘repaired’ to the best of their abilities.  The rest of his recovery was up to him and his crewmates.   

Aeryn tried to pick up everything all at once, rather than ferrying it to the bunk in stages, and only succeeded in scattering socks, boots and clothes farther around the room.  She looked up, the first itch of irritation tightening the muscles in the back of her neck, to find that John was laughing at her.  Two delvians had him sitting up, providing balance and support while they worked him out of his quilted tunic.  The position gave him the perfect vantage point from which to watch the entire clothing debacle from the start.  His chuckle was muffled as the tunic was pulled over his head, then it disappeared completely as they lost their grip on him and he almost fell forward off the bunk. 

“Oops,” he said once they had caught him and levered him upright.

“Tipped over?” she asked as she tossed a black t-shirt to the delvians who were dressing him.  He emerged from the collar laughing.  This was more of the new Crichton, the one that found everything funny and left everyone around him grinning like Keljac kittens. 

The grin faded when he tried to do some of the work himself. 

“I can,” he said to the person next to him.  “I can,” he said a second time, more emphatically.  “Me do.”  They fed his hand through the first sleeve, then let go of his arm, waiting to see if he could carry through on his assurance.  His brow furrowed as he watched his own arm.  “Go, you bas’ard,” he said, grunting with the effort.  His hand and arm slid through the opening.  “Ne’st,” he said.  The struggle to move his arm was repeated on the other side, and they tugged the shirt neatly into place.

“Doing good,” Aeryn said.  “Let’s see if you can get into these on your own.”  She tossed them his shorts, and then wheeled and headed for the door.. 

“You do dese,” he called after her.  “No!  Her do dis part!” she heard him insisting to his two helpers, followed by a long peal of laughter.     

* * * * *

Aeryn watched the trigapods swooping back and forth through the water in the shallow pool taking up most of the room.  She was waiting for D’Argo and Chiana, who were bringing Crichton to meet with the delvians for the last time.  Jool and Rygel were on the other side of the room sampling some of the strange plant-animal food, discussing the possible nutritional value.  They were all dressed in their normal clothes in preparation for a return to Moya, and Aeryn shifted on the bench, debating whether her leather pants were as comfortable as she had always thought.  She had been wandering around in the quilted delvian garments for more than forty solar days, and had become accustomed to their loose comfort.  They would never hold up against the kind of abuse her life demanded however, so she shifted to settle the heavy layers to a more comfortable position, and concentrated on the familiar smooth warmth of the leather instead of the restrictive weight. 

“Where are they?” Rygel said in an impatient grumble. 

Aeryn was about to answer when she heard laughter in the passageway.  She could pick out Chiana and D’Argo easily, as well as John’s new breathless laugh.  Aeryn walked into the corridor to investigate the source of the hilarity.   

D’Argo was supporting John from behind -- brawny arms under his armpits and clasping him around the chest -- while Chiana walked in front of them, moving in reverse.  She had John’s boot laces in her hands and was pulling one foot forward at a time, creating a jerking parody of a walk.  John lifted his head and looked at her, still laughing at his own predicament.  Aeryn shook her head.  It was funny, but she also knew that lifting his head was the only thing he was doing on his own at that moment, and that the small motion was probably an exhausting effort. 

“Coming, honey.”  He seemed to think that was even funnier than what was already going on, and started to laugh harder.  A microt later, he went pale and started to gasp for breath.

“D’Argo!” Aeryn said, recognizing that John had exceeded his limited capacity for physical effort.   

“That’s enough,” D’Argo said at the same moment, and Chiana immediately released the laces.  D’Argo moved faster, turning sideways so he would not kick John’s legs, and swung him into the room.  He set John down on a bench, holding him upright but in a position where John could let his head hang forward and gasp for air. 

“Liddle … ‘head of … self.”  John wagged his head from side to side several times.  “No good.  Need … lie down.”  D’Argo eased him on to his side.  “Whoa.  Gah nuch,” he said once he was breathing more easily. 

“Gah nuch?” Aeryn asked, using the calm, dispassionate tone they had discovered would not set off the mercurial temper.  After consulting with Meylan, they had decided that each and every indecipherable comment would be handled this way.  The more frequently he was required to find the right words, the faster John would recover his ability to express himself. 

“Too much,” John said, getting it right on the second try.  He closed his eyes and concentrated on breathing for several microts. 

Meylan, Lorana, and Daaren entered the room just as Crichton motioned that he wanted to sit up.  Aeryn started to move toward the bench to sit with him, but D’Argo shook his head, stopping her before she had taken a step.  “This may take a little while, Aeryn, and he’s heavy.” 

“Me?” Crichton said, feigning innocence. 

“Yes, you.  How much do you weigh?  A sakmar?” 

“No muh laughs.  No air.” 

D’Argo had John upright, holding him against his chest as he straddled the bench behind the crippled astronaut.  The luxan rubbed John’s chest for a microt, a silent apology for encouraging his laughter to the point of asphyxiation.  “Wha’s a sakmar?” Crichton asked over his shoulder.

“Later, John.”  D’Argo shifted backward several denches.  The new position allowed John to lean more of his body weight against him with his head resting on D’Argo’s shoulder. 

Aeryn crossed the short distance to stand alongside the pair.  She wiped several trickles of sweat from John’s temples, watching him carefully until his labored breathing finally slowed and settled into a steadier rhythm.  “Are you all right?” she asked. 

“I’m fine, Aeryn.” 

It was the clearest sentence he had managed to utter so far, delivered in the familiar confident tones of John Crichton.  For a single microt, she had him back the way he had been before his capture.  He tried to look up at her, could not raise his head far enough, and the moment was gone.  She bent down, kissed him lightly, then moved to take her place on a seat where she could watch both the delvians and John at the same time.   

Meylan led a repeat of the discussion they had held several days earlier.  He explained the recovery period that lay before John, using far more simple terms than he had during the first conversation, and waiting for John’s reaction after each small piece of information.  The center of attention seemed happy with the long explanation concerning his defective memory, surprising only the delvians with his reaction. 

“Worried.  Begin thought I’s stupid.”  He grinned. 

Rygel jumped into the opening.  “You are.”

“Chi.  Hit for me.” 

The nebari leaned over and took a light swing at Rygel, missing by no less than a full motra. 

The discussion of his physical condition disturbed Crichton more than the one about his memory.  “How long?”  He was forced to look down his nose at them due to the way his head was leaning against D’Argo’s shoulder.  “Up, D?” he asked.

D’Argo leaned forward and levered him upright.  John made the effort to hold his head up in order to look at the delvians levelly.  “H’long b‘fore normal?” he asked again, struggling through the syllables.

“That will be up to you.  You will find that over-exertion will lead to setbacks.  If you can maintain a steady but not excessive progress, then possibly a quarter cycle to achieve a full recovery.” 

“Frell.”  John’s chin dropped onto his chest with a thump.  He pulled it back up, clearly struggling to accomplish the small physical effort.  “A’ right,” he said, followed by a long sigh.  “Time and …”  His head dropped again and he let out a growl of frustration.   

Aeryn finished the sentence for him.  “Patience.  Time and patience, John.  Start here.”   

“Uh huh.”  He was leaning back against D’Argo again, his head lolling to one side.  “Wha’ else?” 

The delvians were silent for a microt, considering their next topic.  Aeryn remembered something that had been skipped over a number of days earlier, and decided to take advantage of their momentary silence to get the answer to a question that had been nagging at her ever since.   

“Before you continue, I would like to ask you to explain something that got dropped a number of nights ago.”  She paused long enough for them to redirect their attention toward her.  “You said there was something I needed to know before we left.  What were you referring to?” 

Meylan turned in her direction and bestowed an enigmatic smile on her.  “The first time you entered Unity with John Crichton …”

“Unity?  That’s wha’ was?”  John managed to pull his head forward long enough to look at squarely Aeryn for several microts.  “That’s wha’ we did?”  His head fell back again. 

“Yes.”  Her smile was embarrassed but pleased, due in part to his delight in their combined achievement, but also because he remembered what Unity was without any memory jogging. 

“Aeryn did it, Crichton.  She joined with you the first day you were here,” Chiana said. 

“No!” Meylan said, cutting in before anyone else could speak.  “That is precisely what we wanted to explain before you left.  It was not Aeryn Sun who initiated the joining.” 

“I knew I hadn’t done it!” Aeryn said.  “I knew I did not have the ability to join us.” 

“Do not underestimate your abilities, Aeryn Sun.  It is no small feat for two uninitiated individuals to achieve Unity, even after allowing for our participation in bringing your minds together.  It could not have been achieved without your strong involvement.” 

“Then it was Daaren after all.  He joined us,” she said. 

“He only guided you to where Crichton existed.  He misunderstood what happened afterwards.  Daaren is a healer of the physical realm and did not recognize the intricacies of the joining.  It was not until the two of you joined with both myself and Lorana present that we realized that it was John Crichton who had initiated the merging of your minds.”

“Hunh?”  John lifted his head without any apparent struggle.  “No!  Not me!” 

“Crichton?”  Rygel’s yell of disbelief echoed around the room. 

Aeryn looked at John with a thoughtful expression while D’Argo rubbed the top of his head in enthusiasm. 

“Un unh.  Was no me.”  John was trying to shake his head, but D’Argo’s rubbing was turning every one of his attempts at a side to side motion into a nod.  “’nough, D,” he said with a hint of force in his voice. 

“That makes more sense,” Aeryn said into a break in the ruckus.  She looked across at Crichton, replaying each experience with Unity in her mind.  “That makes a lot more sense.  When I tried to help on the last day they had you in the pool, I felt like I got sucked into you.  I assumed it was a product of having both Meylan and Lorana helping me get there, but it felt like a grab, not a push like the Meetings.”  She smiled at him.  “Humans are not superior, but they do tend to be surprising.” 

“Get out o’ town,” John said.  He was allowed to lay back, the vibrations from D’Argo’s almost silent laughter reverberating through his body, providing a wordless tale of good humor, acceptance, and approval.   

“The need was great, and the bond was already strong.  Do not expect to be able to do this again unless there is equal need.”  Meylan gazed serenely first at Aeryn and then at Crichton.  “However, if you ever require it again, the capacity is there.  You have joined.  The tie exists and can never be broken.” 

Aeryn was overwhelmed by the enormity of the revelation, and by the implications inherent in their accomplishment.  John had not been told how long they had shared Unity during John’s last ordeal in the pool.  Aeryn had overheard the delvians talking about the event on several occasions, and from their comments she knew that the length and extent of the joining would enhance their ability to achieve Unity in the future.  Her eyes followed the movements of her fingers as they picked at a small scuff on her pants.  Several microts passed in silence before she had the courage to glance at John to check on his reaction to the news.  The look on his face forced her to smile.  He was trying to contain his elation, but the mixture of joy and caution was making such a mess of his expression it was comical. 

“I suppose I can live with that,” she said after several more microts worth of contemplation. 

His face cleared.  A single expression settled into place:  the happiness that Lorana had assured her John felt whenever Aeryn was near.  “We go now?” 

“We would like to discuss one more thing before you leave, John Crichton.”  Meylan had become very serious. 

John tried to look at him directly, but his chin sank to his chest one more time.   This time it stayed there.  Fatigue was winning out over tenacity.  “G’head,” he said.  It emerged as a guttural mumble.

D’Argo shifted back on the bench even further, taking on more dead weight, and lifted John’s head so it rested on his shoulder, compensating for the failing muscles.  Daaren rose, wove his way between the benches until he was standing next to the pair, and then placed one hand on Crichton’s forehead.  Aeryn watched with wonder as John became more alert, understanding immediately that he was receiving a transfer of living energy from the delvian.  John rolled his head on D’Argo’s shoulder, still too weak to lift it, and gazed up at Daaren in awe.  The healer smiled back, placed his hand on Crichton’s shoulder for a moment, and then resumed his seat. 

Meylan waited until John turned his attention back to the unfinished discussion.  “Do you recall the first time I entered your mind in the pool, John Crichton?” 

“Hard t’ forget.”  John was doing his best to pay attention, but he was struggling inside a body that had already done too much for one day.  Daaren’s gift of energy, which might have sustained a healthy person for several arns, was not going to last for more than a few microts.  D’Argo slid his second arm around John’s chest to help hold him up, supporting more of his weight as his body continued to shut down despite the infusion of energy.

“That should not have happened.  We have tried several times since then to determine the origin of your pain, which was psychic in nature, but were unable to break through a block that you have built to hide the source.”  He waited to make sure that Crichton understood his explanation, continuing only after he received a tiny nod.  “We do not know what you have hidden, but if it emerges during your recovery, you should expect that it will be highly traumatic.”  He watched the slumped figure carefully.  “Do you understand what I am telling you, John Crichton?” 

John nodded and then tried to say something.  The best he could manage was an inaudible whisper.  D’Argo ducked his head to listen.  “Stupid and a block head,” he repeated. 

Chiana laughed.  Aeryn and the delvians all smiled. 

D’Argo was listening again.  “He asked if the block was from what the scarrans did.”  D’Argo exchanged glances with Aeryn, both of them thinking about the mental beatings Crichton had already suffered, and then he asked his own question.  “Could it have come from something else in his past?” 

“It is conceivable that it originated from something else,” Meylan said slowly.

“Buh.” John had mustered enough energy to issue his own prompt for the priest to continue. 

“But the damage from this torture was extensive and severe.  It is unlikely that an existing block would have remained in place under those circumstances.  It is much more likely that you are hiding something that even your own mind is unwilling to consider.” 

“Wha’s mean?”  John’s eyes started to close.  He yanked himself back awake, expending the last of the energy he had received from Daaren. 

“Rely on your friends, John Crichton.  If the memories reveal themselves, do not try to handle them yourself.  These people have proven themselves to be dedicated to your well-being, allow your friends to continue helping you.” 

John whispered something and D’Argo looked hurt.  “What do you mean ‘not friends’?”  He was about to say more when he caught John’s look of panic.  He stopped and leaned in to catch the rest of the phrase.  The luxan smiled at the four appalled faces, nodding at the addition.  “He said ‘Family’.”  Crichton returned Aeryn’s pleased smile and promptly fell asleep. 

“Anything else?” Aeryn asked in his stead. 

Lorana stood up.  “Make sure he gives himself time.  It has been less than fifty solar days since the damage was inflicted.  That is very little time considering the magnitude of the injuries.”  She moved to stand next to D’Argo who continued to prop up the unconscious astronaut.  “Good luck in your travels, John Crichton.  I hope to see you again when you are fully restored.”  She laid her hand on his forehead much as Daaren had earlier, then moved away to one corner of the room. 

Daaren came over next, touching each of the group lightly and ending with Crichton.  “Take care of him,” he said to no one in particular.  “He is a unique individual.” 

Meylan repeated the light touches, bestowing a small phrase on each of them, touched his forehead to Aeryn’s briefly, and then stood next to John.  He looked down at the expressionless face for several microts, an expression of deep sorrow appearing for a single microt before being replaced by his usual serene smile.  He placed both hands on John’s forehead, said, “Be well,” and released him. 

Aeryn helped D’Argo cradle the limp body, swinging the long legs to one side so he could get his arm under John’s knees, and then helping the luxan to his feet.  John woke up during the process, looked around in confusion, and then spotted the three priests standing to one side. 

“Leavin’?” he asked sleepily.  “Time go home?” 

Aeryn touched his cheek to get his attention.  “Yes, we are leaving.  Where’s home?  Do you remember?” 

“Course!”  He turned away from her, looked back at the delvians and spoke deliberately, forcing each word out correctly.  “Thank you for my life.” 

“Be well, John Crichton,” Meylan repeated his farewell.  “Take care of yourself, but come back if you ever need our help again.” 

“’kay.  I promise … no more scarrans.”  His new laugh bubbled out of him, infecting everyone in the room.  He looked up at D’Argo, “Le’s go home.” 

“Where’s home, John?”  D’Argo repeated Aeryn’s question. 

The human snorted.  “Not tha’ stupid!  Moya!”  He laughed lightly and fell asleep. 


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

92
Crashfic / Chapter 10 (continued)
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 09, 2016, 08:35:27 PM »
Chapter 10 (continued)

Aeryn dropped her legs over the side of the bunk and slid carefully to the floor.  Every muscle in her body was stiff, which meant that she had slept much longer than normal, and the light in the room was set low so she had no idea what time of day or night it was.  For all she knew, she could have been sleeping for several arns or several days.  Stretching her upper body, arms, and shoulders in all possible directions, striving to loosen some of the locked muscles, Aeryn looked across the room to see if John was awake.  The only portion of his body in sight was his hair, leading her to assume that he had his face buried in the pillow, something she had seen him do occasionally on board Moya.  It was not until she walked over to check on him that she discovered she had been looking at the back of his head.  Quiet rumbling snores made their way from the pillow, testifying that he was still asleep, and she crossed the final few denches with every bit of stealth that her training provided, making sure she did not disturb him. 

In this peaceful moment, he almost looked uninjured.  With random tufts of hair standing on end, his mouth gaping slightly to let the airy grumbles of his snoring escape, John looked no different from any of the other times she had spied on him while he was sleeping.  The clues were there if she chose to search for them.  His jaw hung a micro-dench too slackly, missing some of the firmness that gave his face strength and character; a tiny crawl of spittle glistened along his lip, unnoticed by the mind that struggled simply to breathe and maintain a small semblance of order; and his hand, where it lay tucked near his chin, was curled into an awkward fist, fingers wrapped around the thumb instead of the other way around.  It was John, but pieces were missing. 

“Don’t you quit on me, John Crichton,” she whispered.  “You fight until you’re all the way back.”  Aeryn watched the slow rise and fall of four more breaths, using the time to admit that she would love him no matter how complete or incomplete his recovery.  With or without his entire store of memories, this was John Crichton and her feelings were not going to change.  She tugged the blankets around his neck where they had started to gap, and left him so he could get some more rest.   

She was certain that their hosts must have had him out of bed again in the middle of the night.  John was incapable of rolling over on his own, and they would not have disturbed his sleep for something as trivial as a simple position change.  Something must have happened that required moving John.  It also meant that her own level of exhaustion must be far greater than she had estimated if they had been able to get him out of the room and back in without waking her.  Aeryn finished dressing -- a quicker process when it did not require socks, boots, or strapping on a pulse pistol -- and checked on John one more time.  He was still sleeping soundly. 

Aeryn folded her arms and tucked her hand under her armpits to keep from touching him, no different from what she had done dozens of times over the interminable twelve days that it had taken to get to this sanctuary.  The relief that it was to keep from waking him, rather than to avoid causing him untold agony, was enough to make her lightheaded. 

Those endless arns of uncertainty seemed like a bad dream now, something that had been experienced by someone else.  A portion of her mind insisted that Aeryn Sun had not stood over an empty shell that muttered strings of unintelligible syllables flooding from a damaged brain; Officer Sun had not spent twelve impossibly long solar days wandering from Command to Pilot’s Den to the infirmary, eating only enough to keep herself alive because she was sick every time she considered that John Crichton might be injured beyond recovery.  That person was not her.

John took a deeper breath, muttered “Nar’nyn” on a sigh, and was still again.  She had come to recognize the sleep-slurred sound as her name.  He spoke to her constantly in his sleep, rarely offering anything more than the unintelligible version of her name.  It was enough to tell her that he was thinking of her all the time, showing the same single-minded devotion that had allowed him to survive what the scarrans had done to him. 

The desire to touch him grew into a physical need.  Aeryn knelt down alongside the bunk, rested her cheek on the edge of the mattress and cautiously ran her fingers along the humped contours of where his body lay beneath the covers, barely bringing any pressure to bear.  “Sleep,” she mouthed to him.  “Heal.  Get well.” 

Forty microts of delicate touches was enough to restore her control.  She fingered the tousled brown hair, traced the curve where the broad shoulders lay without the capacity for movement, and finally laid a kiss against the back of his head, feeling the first return of the furnace-like body heat that John normally put out.  The immobility resulting from the damage to his nervous system had so reduced his metabolism that Daaren and the delvians were having trouble keeping him warm.  On more than one occasion, they had taken him from his bunk in the middle of the night and immersed him in the pool for no other reason than to warm him. 

“Nar’nyn?” John called more loudly just as she reached the door.  Aeryn froze, waiting to see if this was another of his dream-generated calls or if he was awake.  “Gorfla neg fik,” he added to the conversation, coming close to making her laugh, and then he was quiet again. 

She shook her head, trying to memorize the syllables so she could tease him about it some day when he was capable of a comeback, and then left the room.  Her first step into the corridor turned into a faltering stumble as she almost bumped into Daaren.  Aeryn cursed mentally, disgusted that she could be taken off guard like that so easily.  It meant that she was not only tired, she was distracted as well. 

He was apologizing before she could recover.  “Aeryn Sun, I did not mean to startle you.  How are you feeling?  Well rested, I hope.” 

“I’m fine, thank you.  How late is it?  How long have I been sleeping?”  She stretched her neck as she spoke, listened to the soft crackle of loosening vertebrae, and revised her assessment of how long she had been asleep by several arns. 

“About fourteen arns.” 

Aeryn shuddered. 

“Are you ill?” Daaren inquired quickly, placing a hand on her elbow. 

“No.  I’m … I’m fine.”  There was no way to describe to Daaren what she had experienced when he had said the word ‘fourteen’.  Nausea, fear, remembered agony, and worst of all, the overwhelming despair that she would not live long enough to say goodbye to someone she loved.  John had hidden the indescribable horror of Kelvo Fourteen from the rest of them for a good reason.  Just thinking about the words ‘Kelvo Fourteen’ was enough to dredge up the memories.  But she was concerned now.  If the word fourteen had that much of an effect on her, there was no telling what it would do to John.  She wondered if hearing it in a language other than Scarran would lessen the impact. 

Daaren continued to watch her with concern.  “I really am fine,” she protested, then tried to redirect his focus.  “How is John?  You moved him last night.  Was there another problem?” 

“He was experiencing some random muscle contractions while he slept.  He was given some therapy to resolve the effects.  He is progressing slightly better than we expected.” 

“Better,” Aeryn repeated in shock.  John’s night had consisted of vomiting, tears, muscle cramps, and whatever the delvians had done to help him through the painful contractions.  It was doubtful that he’d had more than four or five arns of unbroken sleep over the past fourteen arns.  “You expected him to be worse off than this?” 

“Problems are to be expected.  He has been through a great deal.” 

Aeryn looked at him intently, checking to see if he was making some kind of joke.  John had been through a great deal more than a great deal. 

Once again she was mentally transported back to the room with the metal table, this time to experience the sharp, burning pain as her ligaments tore, joints grinding and separating as she strained against the straps, the discomfort nearly lost behind the all-encompassing agony.  Muscles bunched, cramped, seized, and eventually tore as the frenzied attempts to escape continued, battering against strictures that would never give way.   

“Would you like to get something to eat?” 

Daaren was looking at her peculiarly.  Aeryn thought for a microt, replaying the question in her mind, and realized that he had asked the question twice.

“Yes,” she began, meaning to ask if it was time for First Meal, or Midday Meal.  Something began to bother her, starting as a peculiar itching at the base of her skull and developing into a suspicion rather than any sort of coherent thought.  Puzzled, she turned and headed back to the room where John was sleeping, remembering Daaren at the last moment.  “I think … I think maybe you should come with me,” she told him, beckoning for him to follow.   

“John?” she called.  Somehow she knew that she did not need to be quiet. 

“Ar’nyn,” he croaked, barely managing the small greeting.  “Hur’s.”  His entire body shook, racked by a massive shudder. 

Daaren nudged her out of the way, discarding manners in favor of getting to John quickly, and flipped the covers back in one fast motion.  John was curled into a tight ball, mimicking the position he had maintained for so many days in the pool.  This was not a pursuit of comfort or security, however.  Before the priest could touch him, another spasm shook John and his arms hitched convulsively, clamping in close to his chest. 

“Do not be alarmed.  This is to be expected at first,” Daaren explained as he rolled John onto his back.  “The muscles are receiving random signals from the restored neurons and they’re responding with uncontrolled contractions.  It will pass.” 

Aeryn moved to the head of the bunk, standing impotently as wave after wave of spasms hammered the helpless body.  Daaren went about his work calmly, as though none of what was happening was serious.  John’s right leg was pulled out straight, generating a muffled yowl of pain, and massaged until it stayed in place.  The process was repeated on the left leg, by which time his right had contracted again. 

“What should I do?” Aeryn asked. 

“Help will be here shortly.  Although this is admittedly painful, it is not debilitating.”  Daaren pulled John’s right leg out for the fourth time, and directed his next statement toward the suffering human.  “Breathe slowly, John Crichton.  Relax.  We will resolve this shortly.”  The left leg was drawn out, barely straightening by the time John’s right knee had pulled in again. 

“Ar’nyn?” he called in his mangled speech, looking up at her. 

“Slow breaths.  Not much longer, John.  They’ll make it better.” 

He nodded several times, bit his lip, and managed not to cry out when Daaren moved up the bed and pulled one of his arms out for the first time.  “Hur’s,” he complained again between the efforts to release his arms. 

“I know.”  There was nothing more to say.  She could not assure him that it would not happen again, could not tell him when it would be over, and had no idea how they were going to resolve the problem. 

“Loogk.”  John drew her attention away from the sense of helplessness that was urging her to lash out physically.  “Toes goes.” 

He was right.  In the depth of discomfort, when he had every right to be fixated on Daaren’s painful attempts to treat his malfunctioning body, and with so much of his personality as inaccessible as his memories, John had found a positive side to his dilemma.  He let out a quiet cry as one of his heels skittered six denches across the mattress, drawn inexorably toward his buttocks by the contracting muscles.  His foot jerked to a stop, and a microt later the toes flexed up and then down, voluntary movement found in the midst of erroneous signals from his nervous system.  Aeryn smiled, all of her anxiety relieved by the small bit of optimism, and leaned down to kiss him.  This was the John Crichton she had been waiting for -- the one who was full of hope and did not know how to give up.

“Nice.”  John grunted as another wave of spasms hit him.  “More?” 

“Make more toes goes, and you’ll get another.”     

His attempt at an answer was interrupted by the arrival of Lorana and several acolytes.  They entered the room moving quickly but without any unseemly haste, managing to look relaxed even as they hurried to help Daaren.  With five of them working simultaneously, they managed to get him lying flat.  John was quickly wrapped in several blankets, lifted, and carried toward the door. 

“You gor … geous,” he said to Aeryn as they moved past her. 

“And you are the love of my life,” she replied.  The look in his eyes was more reward than she ever could have hoped to receive.  Two microts later, he was out of sight, headed for wherever they were going to treat the muscle spasms. 

“How will you get it to stop?” she asked Lorana.  The delvian was waiting by her side as though she had anticipated the question. 

“We will take away some of the discomfort, which will allow him to relax.  That should reduce the flow of neural signals to the point that he experiences some relief.  There is nothing we can do about the underlying cause, so we will attempt to treat the symptoms.  Hot water and massage should relieve the contractions long enough for him to get back to sleep.  Rest will give his body time to heal.”  Lorana gave Aeryn one of the calm, patient smiles that Zhaan used to bestow on someone to let them know that she understood their concerns. 

Aeryn looked into the corridor in the direction where John had been taken, slowly picking at a single loose thread on her tunic.  “I want him to be comfortable.” 

“You want him back the way he was before,” the delvian suggested, her tone implying that Aeryn might be denying her own feelings. 

“I do not care about that.  There’s enough of him there already for me to live with the rest of my life.  I saw what --”  Aeryn gestured toward her head, searching for the right words to express what they had experienced in the final Meeting that had brought John out of his quiet dreaming place.  “He deserves to be comfortable.  He deserves to be happy.” 

“He will be comfortable very soon.  And he already is happy.  He is happy to be with you, Aeryn Sun.”

“That’s not --” 

“I have felt it,” Lorana insisted, interrupting Aeryn’s protest.  “Most of his feelings are kept securely hidden from everyone but you and your crewmates, but of this I am quite sure.  It does not require that you are in the room, or nearby.  As long as he knows that you are a part of his life, he is happy.  The images are exceptionally clear.  It is the single element that he requires in order to be happy.” 

Aeryn took three stumbling steps to the bunk where she had been sleeping, and boosted herself up to sit on the edge, feeling too weak to continue standing. 

“You were not aware of this?” Lorana asked. 

“I wasn’t sure.  I thought so, but I wasn’t positive.  I hurt him so badly a short time ago.” 

“But surely, you had to know.  Meylan revealed to the rest of us that John Crichton had retained all memories of you when everything else in his mind had been randomized by the torture.  This must have told you how important you were to him.” 

Aeryn nodded slowly, careful not to upset her balance.  She was hot and shivering at the same time, sweating and yet chilled.  Her stomach churned, feeling loose and uncontrolled, and there was a quite buzzing in her ears and her fingertips, divorcing her from her environment.  She had trouble convincing her mouth to form words. 

“I know I’m important to him.  That’s not the same thing as making him happy when I’m around.  There were some … very bad times.”

Lorana gave her another of the serene smiles.  “Then be assured.  There is no doubt in any of our minds, or in his.”  The priest tilted her head to one side, considering something.  After several microts of the mysterious contemplation, she reported, “Daaren says that John Crichton is somewhat anxious.  It is interfering with the treatment.  You have not had an opportunity to eat, but we --”

“Yes,” Aeryn replied before the delvian could complete her sentence.  She slid off the bunk and headed for the door.  “Show me where.” 

* * * * *

An arn later she was sitting on one end of a padded table, John’s head propped on a pillow in her lap as a team of delvians resumed the therapeutic massage that would ease the cramps. 

“Better?” she asked, looking down into his eyes. 

“Much bedder,” he agreed, smiling up at her in return. 

When she had arrived, John had been more than anxious; he had actually been fighting Daaren and his apprentices.  In the short span of time since he had been carried from his bed, he had forgotten why they had him back in the pool room, and why they wanted to undress him and put him in the warm water.  His emotional distress and his futile attempts to push the delvians away had increased the number of signals flowing through the damaged junctions of his nervous system, and he had gone into convulsions just as she arrived.  Linked in Unity to increase their strength, Lorana and Daaren had bullied their way into John’s mind and put an artificial damper on his emotions, forcing him to calm down.  Microts later, the convulsions stopped, leaving only the muscle spasms to be resolved.   

“Slow breaths,” she said as he blinked sleepily at her.  Aeryn ran the back of a knuckle across his cheek, continuing the slow petting that was keeping him calm. 

“Gwa shay duh ga mey?” he asked. 

Aeryn repressed a strong desire to laugh, settling for a smile that she hoped was small enough that it would not upset him.  On one level, his damaged speech was heartbreaking; on another, the clipped, babbling syllables sounded funny enough that it was often difficult not to be amused when one of his sentences went completely awry. 

“That wasn’t anything that my microbes could translate, John.  Slow down and try it again.”  A frown threatened, the crease above his eyebrows giving it away before he could rearrange the rest of his features.  “Don’t get mad.  Just try it again.” 

“Wha’ dey do to me?” he produced one laborious sound at a time. 

Aeryn watched for several microts as the blue-hued hands worked up and down the oil-slick surfaces of his body.  Despite the extended length of time he had spent lying in Moya’s infirmary and then floating in the pool, his muscles were well-toned and resilient, offering a significant degree of resistance against the firm pressure being applied.  It was the spastic battles his body had been fighting that had kept him physically fit; the visible symptoms of his injuries having the unexpected benefit of providing movement and exercise. 

Daaren was working his way across John’s midsection, trying to relieve some of the rippling seizures that were visibly knotting his abdominal muscles.   His apprentices were tending to John’s arms and legs, taking away the discomfort at the same time that they soothed the twitching fibers.  Crichton’s entire body dripped with the lubricant they were using, gleaming in the soft lights of the chamber. 

“Despite all of your efforts to make it difficult, they are attempting to get your muscles to relax,” she said.  “If you could concentrate on that goal for a few microts, you’d feel better.” 

John laughed.  Aeryn sat up straighter at the bubbling giggle, trying to remember if she had heard him laugh since they had brought him out of his quiet dreaming place.  There had been lots of smiles and a few quiet snickers, but no laughs until this moment.  Daaren paused long enough to pour some more oil across John’s stomach, glanced down to make sure the patient was not watching, and then nodded at Aeryn, indicating that the laughter was aiding their efforts. 

Aeryn bent over John, leaning in close to the cheerful eyes, and put her forehead against his, wanting nothing more than to make physical contact.  She got much more.  A flood of emotions washed over her, dissociated images rippling by faster than she could comprehend, and under it all was the emotion that Lorana had assured her was there.  He was happy.  In that instant, she knew that he hurt intensely, that he was rarely free of pain, that he was exhausted most of the time, confused, worried by his inability to form rational thoughts, and he did not care about any of it because she was there. 

“I know this,” he whispered.  “We do dis a’fore.” 

Aeryn pulled away.  The flood of stolen thoughts stopped.  “You remember everything about me,” she confirmed, stroking the bottom of his jaw.  “You should have saved a little of yourself, you lunatic.”  And then, before the worried look in his eyes could progress to full-blown anxiety, she kissed him and pulled his head closer to her stomach, hugging as much of him as she could while the team continued their efforts.  “Relax,” she began urging him again.  “Everything is going to be fine.  Relax.” 

“Ever’think go be fine,” he repeated, practicing the words.  It was becoming a habit.  He was constantly mimicking everyone around him, trying out words in an effort to increase his vocabulary.  “Ever’think is goin’ be fine.  Go-ink.  Goink.”  He grinned up at her.  “Goink?  I think I make new word.” 

“It’s a nice word.  What does it mean?” 

Her question triggered another rolling laugh, and they continued that way for two more arns, until he was cramp-free, bathed to remove the layers of oil, and returned to the warmth and comfort of his bed where he could continue the healing.

* * * * *

Aeryn boosted herself out of the water to sit at the side of the pool, resting for a few microts while she indulged herself by watching John from a distance.  He was trying to stand and laugh at the same time, supported by D’Argo but pretending to lean on Rygel, who was floating alongside him.  Any exercise John was getting was being done in the pool, now filled with normal water.  The buoyancy relieved his legs of most of his weight while his limbs relearned the motions they were supposed to perform.  John glanced down at the hynerian beside him, looked at Aeryn, and then deliberately pushed Rygel under water, feigning surprise when he sank.  Rygel came up sputtering, but his earbrows were at full height and he wasn’t making any complaints about his mistreatment as he paddled way from his laughing tormentor.

The delvians had included them in his rehabilitation right from the beginning, insisting that they take part in the slow process of teaching his brain how to control his body again.  This was far more difficult that it was for a child.  There was too much mass for him to contend with and his healing nervous system was resisting the new signals.  Only a fraction of the retraining would take place on the New Moon of Delvia.  The remainder would by necessity take place aboard Moya, and they needed to know the techniques that would help John recover most rapidly. 

Daaren and his team continued to check John several times a day interspersed with the exercises, ensuring that everything possible was repaired.  Constant adjustments were needed as his body continued to make small, complex repairs on its own, restoring intricacies that even the delvians could not heal from the outside.  The worst of the cramps and seizures had disappeared within two or three solar days, revealing the extent of the smaller twitches and tics that were equally uncomfortable.  There was only so much the priests could do to resolve the erroneous signals.  It was up to John’s body to complete the final stage of the repairs on its own. 

The laughing stopped as Crichton struggled to full height, preparing for another attempt to hold the stance when D’Argo eased his grasp. 

“Ready?” the dripping luxan asked. 

“Nuh.  Right knee no good,” John reported. 

Chiana ducked in under D’Argo’s grasp long enough to straightened the bent joint. 

“H’kay.  Bedder.” 

“Deep breath,” D’Argo coached, easing his grip. 

John inhaled and scowled down at his legs.

“Head up!” Aeryn yelled at him.  Looking down pitched him forward every time.

“Reh-dy,” he announced, and D’Argo let go. 

Aeryn thought there might have been a split-microt of a delay before he collapsed this time, but it also could have been her imagination.  Despite three days worth of round the clock sessions dedicated entirely to the task of standing up, he still could not support even a portion of his weight.  They had a long road ahead of them, and if they ran into trouble, as they usually did, John’s condition would instantaneously become a liability. 

Aeryn looked at the latent strength of his arms and torso, permitting herself to enjoy the sight of the matting of hair across his chest dripping with water from his repeated dunkings.  His stomach muscles showed clearly as he tensed them in preparation for another attempt.  His hands were clenched into fists, a carry-over from the amount of effort he was putting into the rest of his muscles, but at least he could open and close his fingers now.  His face carried a shadow of heavy stubble.  He had claimed that he had wanted to grow a beard, but she knew he was concerned about not being able to remove the daily growth on his own.  He had not even understood the concept at first, and there had been a long conversation with D’Argo before the memory emerged to create the newest dilemma.

John looked up at her and grinned again, watching her watching him.  He had progressed to the point where he could raise his head for brief periods, but even those muscles remained unreliable.  One moment he could lift his head; the next moment no amount of effort could goad them into functioning.  He looked down at his submerged feet, raised his head as he was supposed to, and gave D’Argo a small nod.  The brawny arms released him, easing away carefully so as not to upset his balance, and in a feat that resembled defiance of gravity, John was still upright. 

“You’re up!” she yelled, elated.  Two microts later he disappeared from sight in a geyser of water.  Aeryn slid into the pool, surging through the waist deep water to help the others pull him up.  “You did it!” she greeted him as he came up sputtering. 

Everyone was congratulating him, their voices echoing off the dome high overhead.  She helped D’Argo hoist him up and wiped the water out of his eyes for him.  It was such a small thing, a tiny success.  Grief lurked behind the triumph, something that happened whenever she watched him fight to regain some small fragment of control over his life. 

The answer to her momentary depression was the same every time.  All she had to do was recall the sense of hopelessness that had ruled her when they had burst into the scarran stronghold and she had seen him lying on that spattered table.  They had taken a huge gamble by bringing him here, and it had paid off in full. 

“Noh-der?” John asked as his friends quieted down. 

“You’ve been at this for almost two arns, John,” D’Argo said from behind him.  “You need to rest.  I need to rest.”  When he felt the chest in his grasp start to fill with air for a protest, D’Argo cut him off.  “Get used to it now.  It’s going to take …”

“Time and patience!”  Everyone yelled it together. 

John shook his head at the chorus, and then nodded.  He gave in so quickly, Aeryn suspected that he was avoiding a confession that he was too tired to continue. 

John looked down at the water next to him, frowned with concentration, and then Aeryn jumped as he grabbed her hand.  “Yay,” he said quietly.  “Look at I got.”  It was another first.  A deliberate movement and a firm, if somewhat awkward grasp. 

“What are you going to do with it now that you have it?” she asked calmly. 

He just laughed, using the wild bubbling laugh that appeared whenever he found something inexplicably funny.  This was the new John, the one they all enjoyed but hoped was temporary.  Small things would suddenly delight him, but when asked, he often could not explain the source of his humor.  He was easily amused, quick to anger, subject to fits of depression; his moods swooping and diving as erratically as the trigapods he enjoyed watching for arns on end. 

The others seemed to understand it better than she did.  They remembered a childhood of incandescent moments and emotions.  They had the memories of bright flashing experiences interspersed with glum depression at the unfairness of life.  Life lessons, D’Argo had called it.  Her childhood had been regimented and ordered, without the explosions of uncontrolled feelings.  She watched and tried to learn fast, hoping that her capacity to adjust would meet his changing personality before the promised frustration arrived. 

Hope, tenacity, humor. 

Aeryn gazed at the sturdy body, damp hair, thick stubble, and could barely breathe for the relief that he was going to recover.  This one had fought tenaciously to come back to her, had survived when he was not supposed to live, and had clawed his way back to this world with their encouragement.  This one was different from the one who had given his life in exchange for millions of others, but had left her alone.   


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

93
Crashfic / Chapter 10
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 09, 2016, 08:35:00 PM »
Chapter 10 

He had been dreaming about rough hands grabbing him, holding him down, hurting him repeatedly, and woke with an almost-scream stuck in his throat.  John struggled to swallow the unvoiced shriek.  Every muscle in his body froze with the exception of those in his stomach, which tossed in rebellion against the pain washing over him.  He did his best to ignore the nausea.  Focusing on the rest of his environment seemed like a good way to distract himself.  There was a delightfully squashy surface beneath him, soft smooth fabric against most of him, and warm fuzzy blankets lying lightly against any remaining bare skin.  It was all pleasant and very comfortable.  The only problem was that he had no idea where he was.  He was enveloped, free to go back to sleep … and felt unbelievably sick to his stomach, not to mention scared to the point that he was starting to shake.   

The trembling set off an entirely different set of sensations from his body.  Pain, sharp and sour, replaced any suggestion of comfort.  He could not remember where he was, and it was too dark to make out any details.  John cast about inside his mind trying to dredge up some memory of where he was or what was happening, and located only emptiness where his memories should have been stored.  The fear compounded, increasing with every additional microt that he could not remember where he was or what was going on. 

Things kept getting worse.  His stomach heaved, very nearly managing to eject its contents.  He gagged for several microts, which made it impossible to swallow fast enough to contain the wet rush of saliva that always seemed to precede vomiting, and the pillow beneath his head was soon soggy with a combination of spit and tears.  He desperately wanted someone to come explain everything to him, and to make the sick feeling and the pain go away, but he could not remember whose name he was supposed to call out in order to make that happen.  He could not stop the tears either, and could not remember why he was supposed to try in the first place.  The universe devolved into a tightly constricted bubble containing little more than his confusion and his fear, and he sobbed into his increasingly wet pillow as the pain and nausea took over his entire existence.

The lights came on, startling him, and a moment later someone touched him, running their hand lightly over his head and continuing onward down his shoulder.  The pressure was familiar and overwhelmingly welcome.   

“Aeryn,” he cried.  Relief managed to make his stomach feel worse instead of better. 

“What’s the matter, John?  What’s wrong?”  She knelt down so she was looking at him eye to eye, rubbing a series of small circles against the back of his shoulder in an attempt to calm him. 

“Wher’ we are?” he asked. 

“The New Moon of Delvia.  We brought you here so they could heal you.”

“Is … I hur’?”  He could not remember anything about what had happened. 

“Yes.”  Aeryn smiled at him, tilting her head to one side to match his gaze.  Her hair sheeted thick and dark along her shoulder, falling to that side in heavy waves.  “You were very badly hurt, but they’re fixing you and you’re going to get better.”  A tear trickled to one side of Aeryn’s face, and that scared him more than not knowing what was going on.  Aeryn never cried unless things were approaching disaster status.   

A fragment of recall snapped into place, and he was nearly sick right then and there. 

“I … I …”  He swallowed against the rising pressure, fighting not to throw up.  The one memory he had managed to locate was a hideous one.  “I geh caugh’ by …”  He could not remember the word that belonged on the frightening creatures.  “By big lizards?” 

Aeryn smiled again, nodding.  She did not look like she wanted to smile though; she looked as though she would have preferred to start crying.  “Yes,” she said in a near-whisper.  “They’re called scarrans, John.  The scarrans caught you, and they did something terrible to you.  But you do not have to worry about that.  It’s over, you’re healing, and we’re going to make sure nothing like that ever happens to you again.”

“Aer’n?” he asked, whining despite his best effort to sound mature. 

“Yes?”  She palmed away a few of his tears, stroked the hair on the side of his head, and waited without any sign of impatience. 

“I’n gonna be … sigk.”  His stomach had already won the battle.  He was going to puke, and it was going to happen very soon.  There was no stopping it.  The only thing in question at this point was the exact time of his final capitulation. 

Aeryn got to her feet and spun around, surveying the chamber, then turned back and smiled down at him.  “Then I guess you’ll be sick.”  She pulled the blankets down to his waist, cradled his shoulders in a two-armed embrace, and shifted him closer to the edge of the bunk in a series of small jerks, grunting with the effort of moving his inert mass.  One more adjustment rolled him nearly onto his stomach and brought his head right to the very edge of the structure.  “If you get sick, you get sick,” she said.  “Don’t worry about it.” 

“Doan … wanna be sigk,” he complained slickly through a mouthful of saliva.  A long rope of drool slid loose and dropped to the floor, the first sign that he was losing the battle to contain the increasing nausea.  “Doan wan’ barf.” 

Aeryn laughed.  The quiet vibrations had the unexpected benefit of lessening the anxious feeling in his chest.  It was an odd reaction since he was sure she was laughing at him. 

“Wha’s funny?”

“You don’t have any choice about this, John.  It doesn’t matter what you want.”  She went on rubbing his back as he panted and belched and gagged.  His stomach went on doing its best to crawl out of his body by way of his throat. 

“I doan feel goo’,” he moaned. 

“I know.” 

Aeryn switched to rubbing the small of his back.  It made him feel a little better, but it also hurt enormously.  The shudders of pain added to the discomfort in his stomach and brought him just that much closer to the point where he would not be able to contain it any more.  Aeryn stayed close, murmuring small reassurances and switching to small touches as he gasped and gulped.  The crescendo of nausea was rapidly approaching its pinnacle.

“We have him, Aeryn Sun,” a male voice said, breaking into the brief silence. 

John did not bother looking up to see who was there; he was too close to puking.  There were at least four pairs of feet aside from Aeryn’s moving around below him, accompanied by louder noises, an increase in the light levels, and the confusion of several voices talking at once.  The covers were stripped away completely, and his head and shoulders were levitated clear off the edge of bunk.  Firm hands grasped him carefully by the forehead and the base of his throat.  Other hands steadied him so he would not slip off the bunk.  Someone slid a pillow under his stomach and encouraged him to curl around it.  This last adjustment puzzled him, since it did not relieve any of the churning inside.  All it did was create pressure against the muscles. 

“Relax, John,” Aeryn ordered.  “Let go.  You do not have to fight it any longer.” 

A container appeared beneath his head, and at last his major concern was resolved.  John abandoned his battle, giving the rushing warmth in his throat its victory.  Gagging, mucus flooding from his nose in response to the unnatural act, he heaved out the contents of his stomach, three pairs of hands holding him in place as he arched into the spasms.  The purpose of the wadded pillow became clear when the external pressure against his stomach muscles aided the internal ones to produce the force necessary to eject the surge of fluids. 

“Breathe,” someone ordered as the first onslaught ended. 

He spent several microts coughing, finally managed to take in a good-sized breath, and then vomited again.  Tears streamed down his face, adding to the wet mess.  Ears burning, jaws aching, he retched, coughed, gagged, and retched again, struggling to find time to service his empty lungs.  His stomach took a break, providing a lull in the storm of misery.  They raised his head and wiped his face with a wet cloth, cleaning away the streams of tears and snot. 

“Relax, we have you,” the deep, calm voice told him. 

“I sigk,” he told them. 

“That is rather apparent,” an amused female voice laughed. 

The simple comment hurt for some reason.  He thought he was telling them something important and she was laughing at him.  This time the tears were from humiliation. 

“Ay’n!” he called. 

The strong, familiar fingers rubbed the back of his head, scrubbing at his hair before moving down his skull to massage the straining tendons and muscles at the base of his skull.  “I haven’t left.  I’m right beside you.  I’m not leaving, so don’t worry about that.” 

It happened again.  His stomach convulsed wildly, forcing out the last trickles of bile and the small amounts of saliva he had swallowed in the preceding few microts.  He gasped for air, waiting while his face was wiped clean by the strangers standing around him. 

Several hands worked at the middle of his body, lifting him long enough to work another pillow underneath his aching stomach.  They let him down at an angle so he could curl around the hummock of padding, easing the strain on the overworked muscles. 

“Better?” someone asked. 

“Uh huh.” 

These had to be the Nice People from before.  ‘Delvians’, Aeryn had called them.  But he didn’t really know anything about them, and he waited forlornly as they helped him, hoping that someone he knew would come to comfort him instead.   They wiped away the cold sweat creeping down his neck, then pulled the blankets up to keep him warm until he was finished being sick.  This time when he started crying, it was because they were being so kind to him. 

Another attack hit, bringing up less than before, and it took the rest of his body along for the ride.  Starting at his toes, a wave of fire traveled up his body, every nerve ending insisting that he was burning alive.  He cried out, squirming against the surge of pain, and retched again, straining to eject something from his already empty stomach. 

“Spit,” someone commanded softly.  He panted, found some air and obeyed, the hands still holding his head so that he did not have to support it himself.  They wiped his chin, and the container was taken away.  “Done?” the same voice asked. 

“Un unh.”  He hurt all over.  Every touch was painful, his stomach ached, and he was shivering from the shock of being sick.  And underneath it all was another swelling mass of nausea beginning its slow rise to the surface.  He retched again, his body arching as it tried to eject something that was already gone, tightly clenched fists aching as he tried to control the internal spasms.  Then it was over.  The hands guided him back onto the bunk as he sagged into their grasp, continuing to support his head throughout the transition.  He watched dully as the last strings of spit and mucus slid slowly into the container, feeling miserable and exhausted.   

“Done?” the voice asked again. 

“Yuh,” was all he could manage.

He obeyed their instructions as they brought him something to rinse out his mouth, spitting into the basin when they ordered him to, and cooperated the best he could when they wiped his face one more time, cleaning away the last of the tears, snot and spit.  They rolled him into his bunk, and stripped away every bit of sweat-soaked coverings -- clothes and bedcovers alike.  Moving him about gently, doing their best not to set off more of the ever-present pain, they washed away his sweating reaction to being ill.  Warm water soaked the sweat out of his hair, sponges worked up and down his body wiping away the sticky residue, and they slid him into clean pants and then threaded his arms and head into a clean top.  He was lifted bodily, the surface beneath him pulled into order, then he was replaced in the bunk and fresh, dry covers were pulled into place.   

He lay for ten microts with his face pressed into the pillow, and then, before he knew what was happening or why, began to cry.  The sobs tumbled out of him without control, the recent efforts by the delvians to clean him up defeated by the latest streams of tears.  It seemed like arns since he’d been asleep.  Waking up scared and sick was a dimly remembered event, buried under fatigue, aching muscles, and confusion. 

“John.”  Aeryn appeared beside him.  She knelt down in the habitual position so she was face-to-face with him, and ran the backs of her fingers slowly across his cheek.  “I’m sorry,” she apologized softly.

“F’r what?” he asked, hiccupping.  They had placed him on his stomach again, his face half buried in the pillow.  He was warm, almost comfortable although he hurt all over, and the slow, warm drift of Aeryn’s fingers across his cheek was like a visit from heaven. 

“For this happening to you.”  She watched him for a few microts.  “For knowing that you’re feeling miserable and not being able to help you.” 

“I’s okay now.  Really.”  She caught a trickle of water where it escaped from his hair and wiped it away with her thumb.  He started to cry again, feeling every bit as miserable as her apology suggested he might be feeling. 

“You’re all right, John.  You don’t need to cry, you’re fine now.”  He knew she was right, but that did not do anything to stop the flood of tears.  “Do you still feel sick?” she asked, finding the hand that was tucked near his chest and pulling it out from under the covers. 

“Nuh.”  He looked at his hand inside Aeryn’s and the need to cry disappeared all at once, vanishing as mysteriously as it had arrived. 

She began rubbing his cheek again, her thumb stroking the contours in a slow migration from jaw to temple and back again.  “Do you hurt?” 

He nodded. 

“John Crichton.”  Someone moved into sight alongside Aeryn, dropping down gracefully onto one knee so he could look at her without strain.  “Do you remember me?” 

A name drifted out of the tangled mess that passed for his brain.  “T’leen,” he answered. 

“No, my name is Lorana.  I’m going to remove the pain.  It will help if you can relax.  Can you do that?” 

“You blue,” he observed.  “T’leen’s blue.” 

She laughed, unbothered by his confusion, and got to her feet, moving toward the bottom of the bunk.  “I want you to concentrate on Aeryn Sun, and try to relax.  That will reduce the level of discomfort that needs to be resolved.”  A hand burrowed in under the blankets and touched his ankle.  He closed his eyes, and promptly forgot what not-Tahleen had asked him to do. 

“Relax,” Aeryn said low and quiet near his ear.  She rubbed the side of his head, working intricate patterns into his wet hair with her fingertips.  “Slow breaths, keep your eyes closed, relax.”  A woman’s voice start to hum and a microt later all of the pain flowed out of him, emptying out from his head to his toes as though someone had pulled a plug at the bottom of his foot.  He let out an extended sigh of relief, which only served to bring a portion of the pain back, and a moment later the unwanted tears returned. 

“What’s wrong?  Why are you crying?” Aeryn asked.

“I dunno.  Can’d geh it t’ s’op.”  It was as though all the emotions of the past days were leaking out of him all at once, unfocussed and unstoppable.   

Aeryn’s voice hummed nearby.  The individual words were unintelligible.  She received a murmured answer from a deep voice, and then someone lifted his upper body, cradling his shoulders and head as he was raised off the soft mattress. 

Aeryn slid onto the bunk, curling her legs beneath her, and he was lowered so that his head lay in her lap.  A queasy feeling ran through his stomach that had nothing to do with his recent bout of vomiting.  They pulled the insulated covers securely around his shoulders, added one more layer to dispel any chill, and then he was alone with her except for the person at the foot of the bed. 

“Better?” Aeryn asked, her fingers moving in his hair.  He nodded, thinking of all the questions that had been in his head when he had first awakened.  Every quandary had disappeared.  He was here and Aeryn was here.  That was all that mattered.  He would deal with anything else later.  Her hand moved down to rub his back, a slow even movement between his shoulder blades, and it set off a long sigh. 

“Try to go to sleep, John.  You need the rest.” 

* * * * *

Aeryn pulled her sleeve down over the heel of her hand and used it to wipe away more of John tears, blotting at the creeping streams as he continued to cry.  When she first slid under him, he had been shaking, with emotion it seemed, rather than from cold.  The quivering had died away quickly once she had started rubbing his back, leaving only the uncharacteristic tears.  She had to give him time, she reminded herself.  Expecting John to revert immediately to the strong, self-controlled person he had always been was unreasonable.  This was exactly the kind of reaction that Meylan and the others had been trying to tell them about when they had met the preceding day.  It was going to be a long time before John was himself again. 

The shaking ended and the traumatized body let out yet another long sigh, and started to relax. 

“Feel better?” she asked. 

He nodded, then frowned and bit his lower lip.  In the past, that habit had always meant he was concentrating on something to the exclusion of everything else.  Aeryn waited to see what would happen, giving him time to sort out whatever he was working on.  Dench by agonizingly slow dench, his hand crawled out from beneath the blankets, headed toward her own, a demonstration of willpower winning out over injury. 

Aeryn met him halfway, placing her hand palm to palm with his and interlacing their fingers, curling his around her palm for him when they would not do it on their own.  “You’re going to be fine,” she whispered, hugging his shoulders with her free arm.  “Just fine.” 

Her own alarm was subsiding as gradually as John’s trauma.  Meylan had seemed to think that this breakdown was completely normal.  Unwilling to worry her in the event that it did not come to pass, they had not warned her that they had been anticipating the entire situation including the vomiting.  They had been monitoring John for exactly this sort of reaction. They considered John’s being ill a natural result of the psychological and physical battering he had suffered over the past several days.  But the unstable behavior was so different from John’s recently restored tenacious personality that she had been overwhelmed from the microt she had increased the light levels right up until Meylan had pulled her aside so the delvians could tend to him. 

A tremor passed through the body resting on her legs, and the memory of everything he had endured so far banished the last of her concerns.  John had earned more moments like this one.  He was staring blankly across the room, eyes closing drowsily from time to time, still crying but not as intensely as before. 

“How are you doing?” she asked, stroking his cheek.  He turned to look up at her, and another small flood ran across his face.  “You’re not sad, are you?  This is relief.”  He turned his face away from her, and rubbed his head against her thigh.  He was wiping his tears on her pants, she realized, unable to do it any other way. 

“Come here,” she said, trying hard to sound disgusted.  “I’ll do that.”  He turned his head back with a grin, and let her wipe away the last of the moisture. 

“Love you,” he whispered. 

“And I love you,” she answered. 

“A’n?” 

This was one of his new habits, one that had appeared since they had taken him out of the pool.  Some part of him needed to check to make sure she was listening before he asked a question, even when he knew she was paying attention. 

“What?”  It was easy to be tolerant of his illogical behaviors.  Only one thing mattered at this point.  He was alive. 

“Lizards catch me?” 

“They’re called scarrans.  And yes, they captured you.” 

Concern about his emotional outburst was replaced by a far stronger fear that something very wrong had just happened.  John had remembered every single detail while he’d been in the quiet dreaming place.  The memories had been carefully and deliberately hidden, but they had been intact.  His question suggested that there had been an unexpected regression.  Aeryn looked toward Lorana, worried that there had been some sort of additional damage.  The delvian raised a hand, indicating that she should wait for something. 

“Wha’ was I …”  John stopped.  “Word not dere!” he complained angrily, squirming against her as he vented his frustration with the greatest physical outburst he could manage at that moment.

“What were you doing?” Aeryn prompted, taking a wild guess at what he’d meant to ask. 

“Uh huh.” 

“You were providing cover fire for the rest of us so we could get away safely.”  Aeryn bent over him, watching for his reaction as she provided the missing information.  “You were right behind us -- no more than three motras.  D’Argo and I turned around to give you cover, and you were gone.” 

John stared at their joined hands for several microts, a small furrow appearing between his eyes as he considered her explanation. 

“You don’ get hurt?  They don’ catch you any?”  His speech was deteriorating, a signal that he was nearing complete exhaustion. 

“No.  I got away.  They only caught you.” 

John nodded twice, suddenly looking irretrievably sleepy.  “Tha’s okay den.  S’okay as long as you not hurt.” 

“John,” Aeryn breathed.  She had not anticipated what was concerning him.  The normally vibrant, muscular body lay against her incapable of all but the smallest movements, his recall fragmented, every small sentence demonstrating the extensive damage that he had suffered, and his first concern was that she had not been injured.  “You’re insane.” 

“Nope.  Was.  Not now.” 

He was joking, she realized, shocked beyond the point of offering a witty answer.  And she had John Crichton back for an instant, the irrepressible sense of humor surfacing when she least expected it. 

“Word missing,” he complained again. 

“Can you get me close to it?”  She could not provide the English version, but they had already discovered that if they could guess what he was trying to say, his microbes would faithfully translate their term into the missing word. 

“Wha’ dey did to me.  Ih’s bad thing.” 

“Why do you want to know the word for that?”  Aeryn had to wait almost ten microts for an answer.  John blinked several times, his body sagging more forcefully against her as he began to succumb to his fatigue. 

“Dunno.  Jus’ missing.” 

“It’s called …”  Aeryn’s voice failed her, fading into whispering silence for a moment.  “It’s called ‘torture’, John.  And you’re right.  It’s a bad thing.” 

For a moment it was as if she had been the one strapped to that gleaming metal table, helpless to do anything but scream out her agony as the surges of energy destroyed her one pulse at a time.  The multi-person Meeting had been the only way to force John out of his quiet dreaming place, but it had left the experience indelibly imprinted on the minds of everyone involved, delvians included.  All ten of the participants knew precisely what John had endured.  The word ‘torture’ barely began to describe it. 

If she closed her eyes, she could feel it all:  the cold smoothness of the table beneath her shoulders, warming gradually as she lay on it; the pinching grasp of the straps that forced her joints into an unnatural position against the slab; the heat of the scarrans as they leaned over her, preparing another wave of unbearable sensations; and worst of all, the small, sticky adhesions where the electrodes were attached, promising that there was more to come than she could bear. 

It was her turn to shudder, the memories more real than most of her own.  Aeryn hugged John again, concentrating on the breadth of his shoulders and the weight of his chest on her legs to banish the other set of recalled tactile sensations. 

“You survived it.  I don’t know how you managed to hang on, but you did.” 

John nodded several times, each small movement taking longer to complete.   

“Go to sleep,” she urged, certain that John was at the limits of his small supply of stamina.  “It’s been a long day for you.” 

She rubbed his chest and arm through the blankets as she watched the blue eyes disappear behind drooping lids.  He was fighting it, struggling to keep his eyes open so he could watch her.  She bent down over him, bringing her head closer to his as she tugged the blankets up around his chin, enveloping his head and shoulders in a whole body embrace. 

“I love you, John,” her quiet words drifted the short distance to him.  She rubbed his chest again, then moved down to rub his stomach.  “You don’t need to think about these things tonight.  Get some rest.” 

The eyes closed, his body settling against her, convincing her that he was sleeping at last, but he hummed in the back of his throat and smiled slightly, letting her know he was still awake.

“Feel good?” she asked, continuing to rub his stomach.  He nodded against her legs, another long hum of satisfaction vibrating through both of them.  She smoothed the damp hair back from his forehead with her free hand, rolled his head upward and kissed him lightly on the forehead.

“Mizz’d me,” he complained with a smile, eyes still closed. 

“You have just been sick.  My aim was perfect.”  Aeryn continued the slow circular motions against his stomach and chest, watching carefully as he looked up at her one more time, his eyes almost completely unfocused as he lost the battle to stay awake.  “Sleep, John,” she whispered, trying to coax him into letting go.  “I’ll be here, go to sleep.”  A quiet wandering hum rumbled for an instant in his chest, and then he was finally gone. 

Only then, when Aeryn was absolutely certain that John was asleep, did she turn to look at Lorana.  The priest was sitting at the foot of the bed with her hand resting on Crichton’s ankle despite the fact that she had stopped chanting long before he had fallen asleep.  She helped Aeryn slide out from under the sleeping human. 

“He loves you very much,” Lorana said.   

“More than I ever suspected.”  Aeryn looked at the lax features one more time, and then crossed the short distance to her own bunk.  “Will he recover completely?  Will he make it all the way back?” 

“I am more convinced of it than ever before.”  Lorana touched Aeryn lightly on the arm and pointed across the room.  John opened one eye to watch Aeryn for a microt, blinked drowsily several times, and then went back to sleep.  “It may be a struggle, but I believe he will not give up until he is fully recovered.”

* * * * *
94
Crashfic / Chapter 9 (continued)
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 09, 2016, 08:34:32 PM »
Chapter 9 (continued)

Aeryn watched from her perch on the tiles as the session wore on into its third arn.  The first two arns had elicited little response from John; he had even looked blissful at first.  She had been uneasy when they first started because of the number of healers surrounding him; but they had laid their hands on him, and begun without any sign of trouble, and she had gradually relaxed.  Meylan and Lorana were side by side at John’s head with the other six priests arranged in a rough circle around his floating body.  John had seemed familiar with the arrangement.  Despite his initial reluctance to go in the water and the number of times he had checked to make sure she was still in the chamber, he had quickly settled down and had fallen asleep within microts of being placed in the water.  He had twitched from time to time, but the process had continued in silence except for the quiet chanting rhythms. 

It was toward the end of the second arn that he had taken his first deep breath and let it out with the softest hint of a cry, letting loose a long airy note of discomfort.  The chanting had become louder as they took a firmer hold on his body, and their manipulations had continued without interruption despite the change in intensity.  Now he was starting to fight their grasp and his breathing was becoming strained and irregular. 

Aeryn sat up straighter, alarmed by the arrival of two delvians wearing vestments.  The two young men moved quickly through the lapping waves to join the group, securing Crichton’s legs mere microts before he began to fight the multiple embraces.  Aeryn got to her feet, increasingly concerned by the combination of changes. 

The waves generated by the struggle began slopping over the edge of the pool.  Small rivers were running in all directions across the tiles, quickly evaporating from the heat.  A single wail echoed about the large chamber as John twisted and arched forcefully within their firm grasp.  Ignoring his obvious distress, the stroking rehabilitation continued, generating another huge lunge against their embrace.  Arriving at a decision, Aeryn slid out of her pants and shirt, dropped into the pool, and surged toward the group. 

“Let me help him,” she demanded. 

Meylan and Lorana moved apart without answering.  Lorana took a quick break to warn her, “You may not be able to get into his mind,” then joined back in with Meylan, her higher voice a counterpoint to his deep chant.   

Aeryn closed her eyes, preparing for the increasingly difficult process of entering John’s mind … and was violently ripped loose from her body.

We hurt, we hurt. 

They gasped with the sudden shock of what they had been fighting.  They had not known how bad it would be.  They had tried to tell them, and they had not understood.  They had been so arrogant to think that they could withstand this without trouble after all they had been through. 

No, don’t think that.  We were right, we can stand it … but we are tired of hurting.

For the first time they became aware of how long they had been in pain, how many days and arns of agony they had suffered through, and how badly they desired surcease. 

This isn’t as bad as before, we were right about that.  We are just so tired, so tired, so terribly tired of hurting. 

Their mind wandered out of control, driven before the discomfort like a fugitive, and they touched something for a split microt, something they had not noticed during the past days. 

NO!!  We can’t go there, that’s where it’s hidden! 

Too late, they tried to turn back.   

“Kelvo Fourteen.” 

They heard the voice, tried to get clear of the memory before it had time to possess them, and were light-years too late.  Insanity struck.  They had a split microt to hope it would rip the two pieces apart.  One portion of them struggled to spare the part that had already been forced to experience this horror, trying to shield the damaged half.  It was futile.  The memory tore into them and fused them with its ferocity, a singularity’s compression, a nova of pain, more than any minds could comprehend. 

They were awed, confused, and overwhelmed.  No one could survive this.  It was impossible.

Their song of strength rose out of the howling of the storm, love and the memory of one woman giving them everything necessary to hang on.  They pulled them away, took them into their arms and dragged them clear of the memory.  Their strength was unbelievable, unfaltering now before the unimaginable.   

They looked at themselves with new understanding and love.  They could not have known what had been endured and could not begin to imagine how they had survived it the first time. 

They huddled together in the aftermath, apologizing for not warning them that the place existed, that the unimaginable was stored there, hidden from everyone. 

It was not their fault, not their fault. 

They should not have learned what it had been like; they should not have had to bear that.  That was supposed to stay forever in their mind without them or the others ever discovering what it had been like. 

They will never tell, they will never reveal to the others what they had just seen and felt.  Only, why would they hide it?  Why wouldn’t they want their friends to know what it was like? 

Explain it to us, they urged.  Tell us what we experienced. 

They searched for the words that could describe the horror of Kelvo Fourteen, and it lashed out again, curling around them, enveloping them and hurling them toward insanity. 

We understand now, they gasped in the aftermath. 

It can’t be considered, remembered, or acknowledged.  It is there and always will be, but it must be kept hidden, locked away forever even from themselves. 

Yes, yes, we understand. 

But now they needed to go somewhere else to escape this small hurt while it lasted.  They couldn’t remember, couldn’t find somewhere else to exist.  It was all blank.  Would they help them remember a place? 

Yes.  Of course.  Why would they think otherwise?  They considered for a microt, thought taking more effort as their senses were attacked from outside. 

Where, where, where?  Hurry.  Please hurry, it’s getting worse.  

They realized that they were trying to keep more of the discomfort for themselves, to protect this portion of themselves.  Stop it, they ordered.  It can’t be done. 

We will take this on ourselves, so that we may think quickly and find a place.  Just for this moment, think quickly.  We can stand it while we think of a place if it means finding one sooner.  We can, we can, we can withstand it. 

They thought of a time of joy and passion …

… and they dove for it in desperation, seeking relief …

… but that had been on board Talyn. 

It was their turn to pull them roughly away from a memory, desperately pulling them in any direction except that one.  Not us, not us.  We are sorry; we did not mean to go there.  They were so much like the other, their current passion greater for the trials they had both endured, and yet so much the same. 

We do not mind, we know now that we love us without comparison.  Try again. 

Here, we will go all the way back to the first moments.  We will share our first memories. 

And then the pain was gone as …

She/he regained consciousness still wearing her/his atmospheric rig, helmet locked securely onto the breastplate.  She/he was feeling confused and dazed as she/he lifted her/his head and looked around the room.  She/he was on a leviathan, obviously captured after her/his Prowler had been sucked through starburst behind the escaping beast.  She/he was not worried, these were lower mentality prisoners, and she/he would be able to overcome them easily and escape.  There was a commendation in this somewhere if she/he could return them all to custody.  Perhaps a promotion, but she/he would have to be careful not to get promoted out of Prowler Command.

Gloved fingers tripped the catch without conscious direction, a motion completed instinctually, and she/he tipped the helmet forward to examine her/his surroundings more closely.  She/he was still a little dazed, so she was not ready for a male officer to suddenly be in her/his face.  His words had no meaning at first, and she/he was angry for being in this cell so she/he lashed out physically.  He was heavy but he did not fight back as she/he slammed him to the floor and pinned him.  He was handsome though, with strange blue eyes, and she/he felt something odd curl within when he spoke, his voice traveling up her/his spine to ignite something unknown in her/his head and heart. 

We never knew it started then.  We thought it took longer. 

We aren’t really sure that it did. 

When did we know for sure? 

We have to see our side first, do we remember this moment? 

No, they sobbed, filled with grief at the loss of the memory.  They remembered her, but they couldn’t find …

Wait!  What is that there?  Look!  It is the memory, safe and intact.  It has not been damaged.  We will examine it together. 

Yesssss, they remembered now, they remembered!  They felt the soft pleasure in their stomach, the tingle running up their chest.  How could we have forgotten that day? 

It was all so confusing, mind-altering, unbelievable.  He/she stood at the cell door, listening to strange explanations from a green slug.  Nothing made sense although the words were familiar now, due in some way to the bugs they said they had put in his/her brain.  Microbes in his head, that was scary.  He/she turned to look at the other figure that the slug had referred to, suddenly concerned by the appearance of the black bug-like figure.  He/she relaxed when he/she saw it was wearing a helmet.  It was moving!  He/she wondered what was inside.  This had already been a very long, very bad dream.  What could possibly happen next? 

The helmet fell clear and he/she saw another human.  Thank the Lord, an ally.  And a beautiful one at that.  She was gorgeous.  The introduction did not go quite as planned though, and he/she was suddenly lying on the floor, ribs hurting, breath gone, with her legs -- what fantastic legs -- pinning him/her down.  She was practically sitting on his/her face, and if this weren’t so bizarre and if she weren’t choking him/her, he/she would be excited to have this happening.  He/she looked up as she demanded information and he/she heard her name for the first time.  Aeryn Sun.  Beautiful woman, beautiful name.  Too bad she had just kicked the crap out of him/her.
 

They were laughing at them. 

They did not think it was that funny, they sulked. 

Now that they knew what had been going on in their mind while they flung them around the cell, they thought it was incredibly funny. 

They hung suspended together for a time, enjoying what they had just learned about themselves, then they led them to the first moment they thought they might have known they loved them.  They examined the found moment together, re-experiencing the growing thrill as a new emotion was discovered within themselves, sharing the sensations, allowing the feelings to compound until the emotions took over their entire awareness for an unknown length of time. 

That felt good, they sighed when it eventually faded away.  We should have a similar memory, where is it? 

It will return soon, don’t worry. 

They thought for a while, trying to choose something they both knew, yet didn’t.  Something they could share with themselves from a double perspective. 

Do we remember hanging in space above a burning moon? 

A ring on a chain floating away, and … waiting for something, waiting for … nothing was there anymore. 

Yes, it is.  It is there.  All we have to do is find it. 

Something dark, something very, very important to us. 

Where is Moya? they prompted, trying to get the memory to work itself loose. 

We can’t remember that either.  Wait!  Moya is gone!  Are we right?  

Yes.  Now, what were we waiting for?

There was a gentle interjection, a calm directive from a third source telling them that it was time to go. 

We don’t want to leave, this is nice.

We’re going.  I promise that there will be time for this later.  Follow me, John. 

The sudden rush of new sensations, endured alone, was almost more than he could stand.  Crichton closed his lips tightly against the cry of loneliness that rose in his throat.  Hands were holding him harshly, increasing the level of discomfort, and he wanted them to stop the new form of torture.  He was twisting helplessly in their grasp, his body out of control, and he was having trouble understanding why they were treating him so brutally.  These were supposed to be the Nice People.  They weren’t supposed to hurt him like this. 

A wave of energy rolled through newly awakened nerves, goading his body into another series of frantic movements that wrenched harder against the restriction to movement.  Nothing he tried could control the battering coming from his own body.  He was an involuntary passenger being taken along on an out of control ride. 

One wet arm twisted out of the tired clutches of the person on that side, flailing out of the water as the figure moved out of the way to avoid getting hit.  Crichton reveled in the momentary relief that came from letting overwrought muscles expend their packed energy in a wild dance of discomfort. He wanted to throw himself across the pool in a frenzy of release, twisting and thrashing until all of the torment went away.  Instead, he took in a deep breath, held it, and willed the free arm to be still.  Miraculously, it stopped moving and the priest who had moved out of range returned, took it up in a light grasp and began stroking the tense muscles as if in thanks. 

John tried to focus on the similar massaging going on all over his body, using the anchor of the rhythmic patterns to gradually get himself under control.  Nothing hurt any less, but by ignoring the urges to give into it, the situation became more bearable.  The waves washing over him died down, and the hands eased their grip, reducing the amount of discomfort. 

A towel wiped his face, blotting carefully at his mouth, nose, eye sockets.  John opened his eyes to see who was there.  There were two of the Nice People … and Aeryn. 

“W’ing … for …”  He took another breath.  “… YOU!  Right?”  Her smile was all he needed for an answer.

* * * * *

Aeryn pushed her exhaustion aside to where she could ignore it.  She was not willing to accept that she had done anything to warrant the level of physical fatigue she was experiencing.  John was the one who had done all the hard work, if only by coping with the pain.  She toweled herself dry then pulled her clothing on.  She had left them lying on the heated tiles as she usually did, and was once again grateful for the warmth stored in the quilting.  The priests still had John in the pool, working to relax taut muscles.  There were only Lorana and two other priests with him, conducting a systematic massage to remove as much discomfort as possible now that he had stopped thrashing. 

Some of the pain had been the result of his shoulder dislocating.  As far as anyone could tell, he had wrenched it right out of its socket at some point during his initial struggles before Aeryn had joined him in Unity.  They had recognized the problem long before the session had ended, and had summoned Daaren immediately.  He had spent more than an arn assessing the injury, trying to determine how to get the joint back into the correct position without risking greater injury.  It was the first thing they had asked John when they lifted his head out of the water, barely giving him enough time to greet her before inquiring about how to resolve the problem. 

That was when Aeryn had been given the first example of the irrational frustration the delvians had warned them about.  Exhausted, crippled, and in enormous pain, there was no reason why John should have remembered how to get the joint back in place.  But when his memory had come up empty, he had gone into an impotent, splashing rage, capable of little else than wordless screeches of anger and uncoordinated thrashing within the careful grasp of the group surrounding him. 

“John!” she had barked in the end, appalled at his continued fury.  “Stop it!”

“Ih’s noh dere!  Ih … shoo … be dere!” he had yelled, getting some volume behind the mangled words for the first time. 

“We know you don’t have the answer.  It doesn’t matter.  You’re not supposed to remember at this point.  Calm down!”  It had taken forty microts or more to get him under control, after which she had discussed the problem with Daaren, relating as much as she could remember about the repetitive injury, dredging her memory for every small tidbit John had ever related about the phenomenon.  It had been enough.  Meylan and Lorana had worked in tandem to draw away the agony as Daaren manipulated the joint, finding the magic combination of angle and force after less than twenty microts.  John had made a long gargling sound of relief in the back of his throat and almost half of the tension drained out of his body -- in contrast to the nausea she had experienced upon hearing the horrid crunch when his shoulder slid into place. 

They began moving John to the side of the pool where four acolytes were waiting towels in hand.  He turned to look at her as lifted him out of the water, and kept his eyes fixed on her for the length of time it took for them to bundle him into a cocoon of heated towels.  He looked gray and exhausted. 

“I’ll be along in a few microts,” she assured him as they finished wrapping him up.  One eyebrow twitched upward in an acknowledgement, and then he closed his eyes.  There was no further sign of awareness from Crichton as they carried him away. 

Aeryn sat cross-legged trying to finish her braid, soothed by the silence that had stolen over the chamber, broken only by the soft lapping of the water as the last of the ripples died down.  It was peaceful, a vacuum of sound that drained away the last of her energy until she felt too exhausted to follow everyone else out of the room.  After three tries she managed to fasten the end of the braid, flipped it over her shoulder to hang down her back, and then waited for the inner strength to get up and go after John. 

Meylan appeared at the door with Hasko at his side.  “We thought you might be able to use a little support.”  When she didn’t respond they reached down and helped her to her feet.  “You will need as much rest as John Crichton this time,” said Meylan. 

Without warning Hasko swung her up and started to carry her. 

“This is ridiculous.  You can put me down.  I didn’t do anything.” 

They ignored her demand.

“Your efforts made this a much easier process for John Crichton,” Hasko told her.  “Do not underestimate the physical demands of your contribution.  Let us do what is necessary to restore your energy.”
Aeryn shook her head and pushed against him, forcing herself out of his embrace.  Hasko lowered her to the floor, and settled for cupping one hand under her elbow to steady her as they continued more slowly through the hallways. 

“How long were John and I in Unity?” 

Meylan gave her a very peculiar look. 

“What?” she asked, baffled by the look and their silence.   

“You don’t know,” he said.  It was halfway between a statement and a question.   

His response didn’t provide an answer and irritation scratched at the back of her breastbone, goading her to a more violent response.  “No,” she said shortly, trying to contain her impatience. 

They turned into a different chamber than the one where John had been sleeping.  Her initial objection died away as soon as she saw that it was a larger room with several of the bunks arranged on the walls.  John was already in one of the cradle-like beds, sound asleep even though they were in the process of turning him on his side and getting him settled.  Hasko steered her toward a bed across from Crichton’s, directing her to a spot where she would be able to lie down and still see him. 

Aeryn was about to repeat her question about the length of time they had spent in Unity when Chiana burst through the door, followed closely by the remainder of the crew.  The nebari’s trajectory, initially aimed at Crichton, realigned itself when she saw Aeryn sitting up. 

“It’s about time!  We were starting to get worried.” 

Aeryn shook her head, puzzled by both the comment and Chiana’s level of anxiety. 

“Aeryn, it’s been five frelling arns.” 

“Five arns?” 

Chiana nodded vigorously. 

“Five arns,” she repeated looking at Hasko and Meylan.  They both looked smug.  She was stunned.  They had explored a lot of things while they were together, but almost three arns in Unity?  No wonder she was so tired, she realized.  Just standing there holding John’s head for three arns would be enough to do that.

“It was exceptional,” said Meylan.  “We have never seen anything like it, not from two untrained individuals.  There is one thing you should know before you leave, but right now you require rest more than you require explanations.” 

Aeryn looked across at where John was sleeping.  Buried under a heap of thermal covers, little more than a shock of dark hair and half of his face were showing.  He may have been mentally shielded for most of the five arns, but whether he had been aware of it or not, his body had been subjected to an extended assault.  Aeryn slid to the floor and accepted D’Argo’s support in the form of a hand beneath her arm as she walked unsteadily across the room to look at Crichton more closely. 

He had his face half buried in the pillow, mouth open slightly as he slept, emptied of all expression by the combination of injury and exhaustion.  Whoever had arranged him in the bed had tucked one hand close to his chin again, and his hair was standing up in damp tufts.  The two features gave him a disheveled, childish appearance.  She passed a hand over the side of his head, smoothing down several of the tufts of hair, and the simple gesture generated a full body tremor strong enough that it could be seen through the thick layer of covers.  Aeryn yanked her hand away, remembering too late that it would take several arns before the over-stimulated nerves calmed down enough that every touch did not generate a burst of pain. 

Just as she was about to turn away she saw that the one visible eye was watching her.  It was a close run contest against fatigue, however.  He was barely able to keep the single eyelid open.   

“I’m sorry,” she said.  She hadn’t meant to wake him.  He mumbled something, defeating her microbes.  “Try it again.”  She leaned closer to hear his slow whisper.  “You are incorrigible,” she said, shaking her head.  He smiled at her, the single visible eyelid closing for a long moment and then struggling open to watch her again.  “Soon,” she told him.  He went back to sleep. 

Her knees buckled, abandoning her at last.  D’Argo was waiting beside her though, stalwart and attentive, and she was scooped up before she could try to regain her balance.  The next thing she knew she was in her own bunk, lying on her side so she could still see Crichton, and they were pulling the blankets over her. 

Hasko ushered everyone out of the room, and the lights were dimmed.  She checked on the room’s other occupant.  John had not moved so much as a finger, but he was still smiling and as she watched, the one eye opened again, stared at her drowsily for a microt, and then closed. 

Chiana lingered beside her as the others left.  “What did he say, Aeryn?”   

“He wanted a larger bunk so I could get in with him.”

She listened as the laughter moved out into the hallway, and shortly after heard several other voices joining in as well.  It was dark in the room, but she could still see the gleaming eye checking on her from time to time right up until she fell asleep.


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

95
Crashfic / Chapter 9
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 09, 2016, 08:34:04 PM »
Chapter 9 

He slept, but he heard and knew at the same time.  He slept, but he knew when they came and carried him back to the pool.  He was not expected to breathe the water this time.  He was submerged just far enough so his face was the only part of his body left out of the water, allowing him to breathe the air that slid into his lungs with less effort than the soothing, warm liquid.  He slept but he heard the gurgle and wash of the waves filling his ears, and felt the laying on of more than a dozen hands to begin the gradual rebuilding of destroyed pathways.  Each success led to a small shudder of sensation as his body rediscovered something other than pain.  The small successes began to add up, followed by the uncomfortable twitches and jerks that could not be controlled.  They swelled, multiplying, until he needed to yell and found that he couldn’t.  It stopped anyway. 

They let him float for what seemed like ages, stroking and quieting the newly awakened synapses.  Then they let him rest, body tingling, giving him time to relearn what each nervous response was supposed to mean.  For the first time since his destruction, there were brief moments when the blankets and clothes felt soft against his skin, a dimly remembered pleasure.  He got to lie on his side again, a position he really liked.  They were all leaving when one of them returned and reached under the covers to find his arm.  She brought his fist up to lie tucked near his chin, smiled and left.  How could she know he liked that?  He hadn’t known it himself. 

A small noise near the bed woke him.  He expended the effort to lift one eyelid in order to take a look.  Easy softening in his stomach and the last of the pain was forgotten, lost on the wind of passionate love.  Sleep would have to wait. 

“A’yn.”  Pronunciation remained a hit-or-miss venture, assuming he could remember the correct word in the first place. 

“Close your eyes, John, I’m not supposed to be in here disturbing you.” 

She knelt down, resuming the familiar nose-to-nose position.  Her breath drifted gentle and warm on his cheek.  It was very nice. 

“I’m only going to stay a few microts.  Everyone is worried about you, but we didn’t think we could slip more than one person past the delvians.  How are you feeling?” 

“Bedder.”  He wanted to tell her not to leave, not to go, to stay with him forever.  The symbols were there; the appropriate sounds eluded him.   

“Really?  You’re not just saying that?” 

She was tugging on his hair.  He was in danger of a complete emotional meltdown. 

“Uh huh.  Loogk.”  He did not have the energy to explain that the disgusting gurgling in his chest had gone away, or about relearning that blankets were soft, so he did the trick he had discovered while they had been dressing him.  He concentrated on the hand nearest his chin and waved two fingers at her, the only portions of his body that he seemed to have any control over at this point.  His reward was her finger tracing a path down his cheek, her touch so light and tender it was barely stronger than the feathery caress of her breath.  It was enough to set off a huge shudder throughout his body and a hot burning behind his eyes.  He was so glad to have her here. 

“If you’re better, then what’s this?”  She wiped away the tears.

He stared at her for a long time, knowing every wrinkle and line on her face, the shape of her jaw, the line of her nose, the strange radiating pattern in the irises of her eyes.  So much inside his head seemed to be missing, but all of this was there for the asking day or night, every detail clearly imprinted in his memory.  Another shudder ran through him accompanied by a wave of pain.  He barely noticed it, caught up in the beauty of the woman gazing at him as though he were something rare and precious.  He watched her eyes narrow in concern and it was as if every moment of pain and fear had been erased, removed by the love of one person. 

“Love you … so musch.”  That did it, Einstein, he thought to himself, now she’s crying.  It made two of them.  “Ae’yn?” 

“Mush?” she asked him through her tears.  Her gentle mocking of his slurred speech left him feeling faint -- as though someone had removed all of the oxygen from the room.  He wanted her to continue until he passed out.   

“Much,” he said with deliberate care.  It was easier to put the sounds together correctly when someone else said them first.  He could copy the noises more easily than he could dream them up himself. 

“I kind of liked the mush,” she continued to tease him.

Laughter bubbled up amidst the tears.  It hurt more than anything that had happened to him since they took him out of the pool, even more than coughing, but it was worth each and every shudder and jolt of pain.  “Aeryn?” he asked again when he could catch his breath. 

“Yes?”  Her voice was thick with tears now, sniffles mixing with the laughter; it wasn’t just him.  He laughed again, shuddering from the pain.  “What is it?” she asked when they both calmed down. 

“Wha’s an … Eins’ein?”   

* * * * *

They sat comfortably in a tight little group.  Aeryn had chosen the floor, long since having discovered that the slightly springy feel and the warmth that flowed out of it was relaxing as well as reassuring.  D’Argo was sitting on a bench behind her.  His knee was providing a brace for her to lean against.  Everyone except Rygel was making some form of physical contact, and the hynerian had gone so far as to set his throne sled down on the bench next to Jool.  They all seemed to be seeking reassurance from each other in a manner they did not resort to very often.  Aeryn wondered if it was their own psyches at work, or if the delvians were influencing them in some manner. 

Meylan, Daaren and Tahleen sat on separate benches facing them, preparing to teach them what would be needed in the days ahead.  Over the eight planetary days since John had been removed from the pool, every priest in the habitat had been working around the clock to restore his nervous system to normal.  Everyone involved looked exhausted.  Aeryn was intensely aware of how many times John had been taken to the pool in order for the teams of priests to coax his malfunctioning body back into working order.  Time of day did not matter.  As soon as they deemed John sufficiently rested to withstand another session, he was returned to the pool.  Sometimes he was allowed to sleep for eight or ten arns, if that was what it took to recoup his stamina.  Other times he was given only an arn or two -- just enough time for the pain to recede -- before he was hustled back into the water. 

Daaren, the healer who specialized in physical maladies, had been summoned to John’s bedside so many times they finally moved healer and healing into a larger room and Daaren had taken up residence alongside his patient.  It was Daaren’s extensive knowledge of what the delvians termed ‘animal’ physiology that everyone turned to whenever they encountered a problem that affected John’s electrochemical and neurotransmitter levels.  It was taking an around the clock, non-stop effort to maintain an acceptable balance as John’s body underwent its own internal struggle to adjust to the reawakening impulses. 

John was never left alone.  Night or day, awake or asleep, it made no difference.  There was always a delvian sitting with him, watching for the malfunctions that threatened his recovery and sometimes even his life.  The list of problems plaguing him was endless.  Over the past six days, he had suffered numerous bouts of respiratory arrest, convulsions, seizures, cramps, agonizing muscle spasms, vomiting, several episodes of total or partial paralysis, headaches, and a daylong bout of blindness when his optic nerves had mysteriously ceased to function.  Each repair seemed to set off an avalanche of other problems until Daaren and his team finally made a decision to stop chasing the cascades and work from the most basic responses outward to the smaller reactions. 

The new approach was working, but it meant that John had to endure some of the symptoms longer, suffering for arns or in one case for more than a day until the team addressed the affected system in its proper sequence.  He did not have the memory or the emotional stability to cope with the problems in a balanced manner.  Aeryn and the rest of the crew had set up their own rotation to ensure that someone was always with him, sitting alongside a Pa’u to make sure that John had a familiar face beside him in case he was assaulted by another attack from his own body. 

He was trying.  Enough of his personality had been restored for him to realize that he was supposed to control his fear and anxiety.  He would fight to keep his emotions in check, but he did not have the tools to complete the job on his own.  In each case, the confusion ultimately overcame his tenacity and he would descend into anger, tears, panic, or a combination of all three. 

And this was only the beginning of his recovery.

It wasn’t any easier for the rest of them.  Sitting beside him for interminable arns when he had lost his sight had been a test of her ability to keep her emotions in check.  Watching the familiar eyes gazing into space without focusing on anything had been a too familiar reminder of the twelve days it had taken to reach the New Moon of Delvia.  Watching him search for something he could not see and start to panic had been many times worse.  As with everything else, John had done his best to stay in control of his reactions, and had come up short.  After enduring several arns of anxious calls to make sure someone was there, they had discovered that if two of the crew held a hushed conversation beside his bed, John would go to sleep.  Hearing their voices whenever he approached a semi-waking state was enough to remind him that he was safe.  He would mumble out a contented-sounding jumble of syllables, perhaps shift a little under the covers, and drift off again.

It was all paying off though.  There was an easily detected improvement after each session in the pool.   Speech, memory, and the ability to reason were all slowly gaining ground; physical healing was more difficult to discern since John was rarely given any time to work on gaining control of his voluntary motor functions.

“Thank you for what you’ve been doing for John,” D’Argo was saying.  “We had no idea it would take this much effort on your part when we made the request.  We are --” 

Aeryn watched him struggle to find the right words, equally appreciative and equally at a loss how to express her gratitude.   

“We are in your debt now,” Chiana tried. 

“Let us say that all debts have been repaid,” Meylan offered.  “The process of restoring John Crichton’s health has been a beneficial process for our community, perhaps more than we can ever explain.  We have discovered talents and capabilities within ourselves that we would not have uncovered if it were not for this effort.  We have benefited from the experience.” 

“That still doesn’t begin to offset how much you’ve done for him … and for us,” Aeryn protested.  “We … I can’t begin to …”

A languid motion of Tahleen’s hand stilled her awkward attempt to express her relief at having John restored to her, albeit badly injured.  “We already know, Aeryn Sun.  Be assured that we fully understand.  But now let us discuss what still lies ahead for John Crichton.”

“All but the last of the neurons and sensory pathways have been restored,” Daaren began.  “We are letting him rest now, after which we intend to finish this last process.  It should begin in about six arns, depending on Crichton’s condition.”  He waited for a few nods before continuing.  “This last portion will be the most difficult both for him and for us, because it involves reestablishing connections that were most affected by the mistreatment.  We expect that he will sleep for a solar day minimum after we have finished, and then we would like to discuss what lies ahead a second time.  The second discussion will be a bit different, and will be entirely for his benefit.” 

Tahleen took over.  “John Crichton is basically intact.  All of our methods of determining function indicate that his memories are still in place, and are ostensibly undamaged.  The connections to those memories will have to be reestablished, and that will take time and a significant amount of patience.  This will not be easy for any of you.” 

‘Time and patience,’ thought Aeryn.  How many times had she heard Zhaan say those words?  She wondered if it was a Delvian thing, or a phrase Tahleen had picked up when she had shared Unity with Zhaan and ripped knowledge out of her mind. 

“How is Crichton supposed to do that?” asked Rygel. 

“He won’t do it.  You will,” Tahleen said.  “His memories will gradually become accessible to him over time without any intervention.  However, the more often you prompt him with ideas and tales from his past, the faster the connections will be reopened.  At some point, all of the remaining barriers will be forced aside by the weight of returning recall, and that moment may be somewhat traumatic for him.  You need to be prepared for it.” 

“Prepared how?” 

D’Argo’s hand gripped Aeryn’s shoulder as she asked the question, transmitting as much nervousness as she felt. 

Meylan smiled.  “You already know how to support him when he needs you.  You have been doing exactly what is needed since before you arrived at our sanctuary.” 

“What about his physical debilities?”  Jool inquired.   

Daaren took over again.  “His physical condition resembles his mental state.  All of the connections will be reestablished before you depart our refuge, but it will take time for him to learn how to use them again.  He will not be ready to leave for another six or seven planetary days at the very earliest.  You must stay here at least as long as it takes for his body to adapt to the repairs we have been making.  The longer you remain, the easier the process will proceed for Crichton.  We encourage you to stay here the greatest length of time possible without putting you or your ship in peril.” 

“It is only a matter of time before the Peacekeepers discover that we are here,” D’Argo said. 

“We understand the dangers involved,” Meylan said.  “Your presence here is not without risk to us.  Just the same, we have discussed it at length and agree without exception that you must remain here as long as is feasible.  Each additional day will hasten John Crichton’s recovery.”

“It may not be up to us,” D’Argo said evenly. 

Meylan made a slow bow with his head.  “Understood.”

“Anything else?” Aeryn asked when it appeared that the small debate was completed.

Daaren took the lead, drawing everyone’s attention to him with a graceful movement of his hand and a smile.  “This interval, however long it may be, will also allow us all to begin teaching him how to use his body again.”  The Pa’u healer smiled more widely.  “I do not believe that John Crichton will need to be encouraged to regain the use of his muscles.  I would suspect that you will need to restrain him from exceeding his own capabilities.” 

Chiana laughed.  “They do understand Crichton!” 

“The strain on his reserves of energy will be extreme at first.  When you return to your ship, he must be encouraged to eat and rest frequently, and do not be upset if you find him asleep in strange places.  If he expends the last of his stamina at a time when he does not recognize his surroundings, the most natural action will be for him to simply go to sleep until he can figure it out.”  Daaren’s indulgent smile seemed to indicate that there were some humorous sights in store for them. 

“You must keep in mind the level of debility that has been created by the scarran torture.  It goes well beyond his inability to control his muscles.  Although a time will come when you will not be able to detect any further improvements in his condition, his body will still be healing and that is going to exact an enormous toll on his supply of energy.  Until he is fully recovered, John Crichton may spend up to half or even three quarters of his time sleeping.  If he pushes himself too hard, he will appear to pass out, but it will simply be a case of going to sleep despite any of his efforts to stay awake.  This will continue even after he appears to be otherwise fully recovered.  ”   

“We might need to address that as soon as we get back on board Moya,” Aeryn said.  “There are some places where it would be dangerous for him to take a nap.” 

“The DRDs.”  D’Argo’s quiet recommendation was answered by quiet mumbles of agreement from the others. 

“What else?” Aeryn asked after the delvians were quiet for several microts. 

“The degree of simplicity that will exist in his mind at first may be much greater than you anticipate,” Meylan cautioned them.  “A number of days ago the comparison was made to being reborn.  This will remain very true for quite some time.  Higher levels of reasoning are not present yet.  He has access to very little of his knowledge, and it will not return in any order.  John Crichton will be able to do some complex tasks one moment, and not remember how to get dressed or open a door the next.  As he transitions back to the person he used to be, you must expect a rising level of frustration.  He will begin to sense that he should know how to do something, and not be able to find the memory.”

“Anger, verbal outbursts, physical violence?” asked D’Argo. 

All three priests nodded. 

“Crichton at his best,” Rygel pronounced imperiously. 

Everyone laughed. 

Aeryn nodded, smiling.  “Rygel is correct.  I think we are well prepared to handle that aspect.”  She turned back to their three tutors.  “Anything else?”

“He will not remember his childhood and adolescence at first.  His emotional reactions will therefore be somewhat --” Tahleen was searching for a word again. 

“Erratic,” suggested Aeryn.

“Unpredictable.” 

“Immature.” 

“Unstable.” 

“Incendiary.” 

“Puerile.” 

“Childish.” 

The voices chimed in from all five of the crewmates, leaving the three delvians simultaneously shocked and laughing. 

“No change at all,” suggested Rygel at the end. 

Meylan nodded, his laughter dying, and then he went silent as the chuckles around him slowly died out.  He appeared to be considering his words very carefully.  When he began to speak it was with deliberation.  “We have not been able to explain the reaction that occurred in the pool several days ago.  When I relieved his pain, I received an impression of something hidden very deeply within his mind; something that John Crichton is unwilling to examine or even admit exists.  He has gone to great lengths to bury it as thoroughly as possible.  We are convinced that his pain is a method of insuring that the memories remain sequestered.”  Meylan surveyed the silent group.  “This may have nothing to do with his torture, and may never surface.” 

“But if it does?” D’Argo asked.

“His physical response was extreme; the mental response may be equally severe.”

“What kind of severe?” Chiana demanded.  “Like going nuts or going back into his own skull like he did before?  Or would it be something different this time?” 

“That cannot be predicted.  It depends upon John Crichton’s ability to cope with whatever he is fighting to keep hidden.”  Meylan waited through the depressed silence, finally resuming when no one had anything to say.  “The possibility exists that his need for restoration may exceed your capacity to cope.  If that occurs, or if you need anything at all to assist in John Crichton’s recovery, please return immediately.  If it were not for his strength and commitment to Zhaan’s well-being, our community would have descended into irreparable insanity.  We exist as a spiritual haven only because he risked himself to save Pa’u Zotah Zhaan, and by extension all of us.”  Meylan made the familiar gesture of acceptance and reverence, passing his hands over his face and head. 
   
* * * * *

Crichton did his best to relax as he was carried from the dimly lit room where his dreams had been comforting him.  He wasn’t especially worried about where they were taking him; he simply wanted to try getting around on his own.  When he had tried to say something to them about it, the words had come out in a garbled mess.  His second attempt had been worse and he had started to feel frustrated.  A hand had rested on his forehead for a microt and he had been told that it was all natural and correct that he could not talk, so he had done his best to put the incident out of his mind and settled down to watch the pale walls move by.

They passed through a doorway into an abrupt rise in humidity and temperature, which meant that they were back in the chamber with the pool.  He remembered how this had felt every other time they had brought him here, and felt the first stomach-squirming hint of concern.  His life was filled with discomfort.  Every breath and every waking moment involved at least some level of pain.  The pool, however, meant that the intensity was going to be pushed as high as he could stand it without resorting to screams.  They always kept him in the water until he was drawing in his first deep breath in preparation for putting a voice to his pain.  Only then would they finally relent, stop the session, and take him back to his room to recover. 

The pool meant another round of agony.   

John wondered if there was some way he could make them understand and put it off for a few more arns.  He was tired of the constant pain.  The idea of an arn or two of thorough relief was like thinking of paradise.  There was, of course, always a small chance that this time it might not feel so horrible.  Maybe this time it would not make him feel as though his body had been smashed into tiny bits and then set on fire, all while he was still alive. 

There was some quiet talking going on as they set him down on warm tiles.  Little of it made any sense.  They pulled the heavy quilted top over his head, helpfully extracting his arms from the sleeves. 

“Is hurt?” he asked a slim figure who was loosening the waist of his quilted pants.  The blue eyes looked away, seeking some guidance from someone he could not see, but another voice cut in loudly with an answer he understood. 

“Yes, this is going to hurt.” 

It was Aeryn! 

They frequently would not allow her in the room during his sessions with the Nice People because he had trouble paying attention to anyone but her and it disrupted the process.  He looked to his left and she was standing there, hovering over the group, looking truly radiant in the filtered light.  She was wearing the padded garments that concealed the contours of her body, but the dark hair falling freely over her shoulders was a bonus sight that left him breathlessly ecstatic.   

“Hey,” he greeted her.  There was an objection to Aeryn’s blunt answer from somewhere near his feet just as his pants were pulled off, leaving him dressed in nothing more than the stretchy, tight-fitting trunks he had seen D’Argo wearing several times.  They left absolutely nothing to the imagination.  He grinned at her and waggled his eyebrows.  “You too?”   He wanted to know if she was wearing something equally revealing beneath the loose delvian pants and tunic. 

She moved closer to look down at him, her eyes fixed on his.  “Later, I promise.”  Then she turned toward the hidden speaker.  “He does not need you to try to protect him from the truth about this.  Don’t you think he knows about that by now?”  She knelt next to him and put her hand on the top of his head.  “Look at what he’s been through, what he’s been able to endure.”  He looked up at her as she ran her thumb through his hair, rubbing his scalp at the top of his forehead.  “Don’t tell him anything other than the truth.  Not now.” 

An older priest appeared, the two of them hovering above him as he lay on the warm tiles.  “I am Meylan Vilar, John Crichton.  Do you remember me from the past days?” 

John shook his head, forgoing any attempt at communication.  Speech continued to elude him; even the smallest words insisted on mutating into random noises no matter how strenuous his efforts to get them to come out correctly.   

“Aeryn Sun is correct.  This will hurt somewhat, but I think we can help you withstand it.”  He smiled at Aeryn.  “It seems that we still have some things to learn about honesty and assessing the mental states of other beings.”  He gave Aeryn a light pat on the shoulder, and disappeared from John’s view. 

“Ayn?”

“What?”  She relaxed into a cross-legged sitting position beside him, elbows resting on her knees so she could lean forward to talk to him. 

“I … don’ wanna … go pool.” 

She watched him for a long time, her thoughts and emotions hidden behind an impassive look of mild curiosity.  He wasn’t sure how many microts had passed by the time she sighed and looked down at her hands; he only knew it was longer than Aeryn usually contemplated things.  He waited.  When she still did not answer him, he began to wonder if the sounds had come out even worse than he thought.  Maybe she hadn’t understood him. 

“Ayn?”  He wanted to explain to her about the pain.  It wasn’t that he didn’t ever want to go in the pool again; it was just that he needed a break from the unrelenting stream of discomfort.  From what Aeryn and the Nice People had been talking about he had decided that this session might be worse than all the rest.  The only problem he faced was that he was sure he would disappoint Aeryn if he said he didn’t want to do it without explaining why.   

“It hurts, doesn’t it?” she said before he could figure out how to transmit his concern.  “All the time, more than we think.  Doesn’t it?”

“I’n tire of ih, Ayn.” 

“Meylan says this will be the last one, John.  You won’t have to do this again after today.”

He considered that, trying to set up a comparison between what Aeryn told him and … something else that he could no longer remember.  “Duh no,” he told her, hoping she might guess that he couldn’t remember what decision he was supposed to be making.

“You don’t know what you want to do?”

“Duh no … wha’ I be …”  He looked away from her, trying to remember the word he needed.”

“You don’t know what your choices are,” she said with more confidence.

“Yeh.”

Aeryn leaned back, looked away from him, and made a gesture.  Symbols he could figure out.  She was telling someone they needed to wait.  She turned back to him and leaned in close, running a single finger up and down his upper arm.  “You can wait until tomorrow, but that means you have to think about it all night tonight, and it means it may hurt more and take longer tomorrow.  Or you can go in the pool right now, and it will be over.  You’ll be able to sleep until you don’t want to sleep any more, and the pain will start to fade tonight.” 

Closing his eyes helped a little.  He tried to shuffle all the bits from Aeryn’s first sentence to one side of his brain, and the remainder to the other side, because he knew that was the way people made decisions.  Somewhere in the middle, all the parts got mixed together.  It was beyond annoying.  It was absolutely infuriating. 

He resorted to the usual solution.  “You ‘cide.” 

Aeryn smiled at him, which created the fluttery weak feeling in his stomach that he enjoyed so much.  “I say we do this right now, and afterwards you can sleep, and sleep, and sleep until you feel better.” 

“’kay.” 
      
* * * * *
96
Crashfic / Chapter 8 (continued)
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 09, 2016, 08:33:40 PM »
Chapter 8 (continued)

John was awakened soon after by a vigorous toweling, accomplishing something more than drying him off.  It went on too long, scrubbing hard at skin that responded viciously to the harsh motion.  He jabbered a complaint at them, trying hard to turn the sounds into something that made sense and failing miserably. The longer he talked, the worse it got, until even he had no idea what he was saying.  Somehow the message got across anyway, because someone using a language he did not recognize provided an explanation that had to do with how long he had been submerged and the need to remove the sloughing, waterlogged skin.  He tried again to explain that it hurt.  This time he got a response in the form of gentle fingers pressing against his temples.  When the brisk massage set off another cascade of pain, the discomfort was magically drawn away.  They finished the all-over scouring, rafts of skin coming away in fragments, then they moved him to a depression filled with warm water and bathed him one more time, removing the detritus of their efforts.

This was better.  This was almost like being back in the pool only nicer.  They propped his head up on something soft and squashy so he could watch, and proceeded to bury his body in sloppy lather.  It was warm and slippery and barely hurt at all, and he spent several microts futilely wishing that Aeryn could join him in the tub. 

A pile of lather crept up his chest.  He puffed a lungful of air at it.  The effort set off a round of deep, spine-shuddering coughs, but the results were worth the pain.  Bubbles went sailing in every direction. 

“Thank you for your assistance, John Crichton,” one of the Nice People said. 

He laughed, accepting the coughing consequences.  The speaker had bubbles sprinkled through her hair and a glob spattered across one cheek.

“Here, play with this instead,” she said.  Someone dug his hand out of the soapy water and placed a sponge in it, curling his fingers around it when he could not. 

“Boah,” he requested. 

“Both?” 

“Heh.” 
His second hand was located and wrapped around the bubbly sponge.  He could feel it correctly.  The discovery nearly overwhelmed his scant ability to control his emotions.  His hands were okay.  The bubbles oozed around his fingers normally, and then crawled up his wrists where they shifted into an abrasive sandpaper scratching sensation.  But the scrub was pleasantly forgiving against the palms of his hands, and the hot water streaming out of it seemed to enter his soul from his fingers and spread out in all directions.  He relaxed, beginning to think that some day his entire body might relearn the correct responses to various types of touch. 

“Niegh,” he said, trying to tell them it felt nice.  A pair of hands trailing water and soap suds tugged the sponge loose, dunked it in the tub to recharge it with bubbles, and tucked it back into his grasp.  “Ganss.”  He had meant to say ‘thanks’.  John decided to give up talking for a while. 

“Aren’t you tired?” someone asked. 

It was like a magical incantation that sapped him of strength and the ability to stay awake.  Reminded that he had already had a long stressful day, he was suddenly too tired to pay attention to what was going on around him.  John closed his eyes and let the gushes of hot water flooding over his body carry away both the bubbles and his ability to think or respond.  The sponge was drawn out of his hands, he was shifted onto first one side and then the other to finish rinsing him off, and then he floated through the air to land on another comfortably curved surface. This one was filled with soft padding that received his body as though it had been grown to accept him.  He was covered with several layers of thick insulating fabric that kept him wondrously warm, and then the real challenges began. 

They started by asking him a strange question consisting entirely of images.  It had something to do with whether he would mind breathing heated air, which would help his lungs revert to their normal function.  Half asleep, barely aware of how many Nice People were there or what they were doing to him, he struggled to put the wordless request into a form he could analyze.  Thinking had become an impossible task, making a decision was virtually inconceivable.  He took another breath, setting off the irritating gurgling deep inside his chest, and the images came again:  a query about taking care of the last puddles in his lungs. 

These were the Nice People.  That much he could remember.  But that did not help him formulate an answer.  Thinking was too hard.  None of the images cooperated when he tried to organize them into some form of pattern that would lead to a decision.  He was confused and that made him frightened.  He did not like being this confused over such a simple question.   

“N’yn,” he told them, hoping they would bring the one person he could count on to dispel the disorder in his mind. 

“Aeryn Sun is changing into dry clothes right now, John Crichton.  She will come to see you very soon.  May I help you right now?  Would that be all right?” 

He roused himself enough to look at the strange and familiar woman, one small piece of his mind telling him that he should know who she was, and only felt more confused.  “Huu?” he asked. 

“Who am I?”  She waited until he nodded.  “My name is Tahleen, and I am a friend.  I was not always a friend, but you and Zotah Zhaan turned me into one of your friends.” 

“Z’n?”  The horrible gurgling made it difficult to breathe, even more difficult to talk. 

“Do you remember Zhaan?”  Tahleen placed a hand on his forehead.   A portion of the headache that had been making it hard to think disappeared. 

“Unh.” 

Triggered by the repeated efforts to talk, he began coughing.  It hurt.  He was tired and confused, the quiet dreaming place was too close, and the persistent coughing hurt more with every spasm.  He wanted Aeryn.  He wanted the one person who could make the dreaming place stay away and who would tell him what to do.  Tahleen and another one of the Nice People turned him on his side so that the next time he coughed the fluid in his chest could escape.  Torrents streamed out of him on the waves of pain produced by the coughing.  They wiped his mouth, and waited patiently until he could breathe without difficulty. 

“Let me help you with this one decision, John Crichton.  Let us do what is necessary to make this better.  Aeryn Sun asked you to trust us.  Trust me on this issue.”

He had forgotten that request.  Aeryn had even said it several times, and he had forgotten it anyway.  John gave up trying to think.  It was useless.  He nodded, not knowing whether it was the right decision and not caring either way, relying entirely on Aeryn’s command that he trust the Nice People. 

Tahleen spoke to someone behind him, and a thick, fibrous mask slid into place over his mouth and nose, warm air providing immediate relief as the moisture in his chest began dissipating.  After that there was little to do but sigh in relief when they pulled the blankets higher around his neck, closing out the last of the cold drafts.   He was about to go back to sleep when Tahleen appeared by the cradle-like bed with several other blue people and asked if he would talk to them for a short time.  This time he remembered that he was supposed to trust them, and he nodded his willingness to try.   

A long conversation followed, conducted without words.  They wanted to know things; there were all sorts of baffling questions.  He showed them what little he could, and they did not seem to mind that he knew next to nothing about everything.  He tried to be helpful, but they were asking him things he was sure he had never known.  When confusion threatened, they assured him it was acceptable to not know anything, and the muddled mess in his mind no longer seemed to be a problem. 

They wanted to touch him next, and that was better.  By this time it was all he could do just to stay awake, but being touched he could do without exerting any effort.  They pulled away the covers one section at a time, retaining the most warmth possible, and went about learning him by fingertips.  Not a scrap of skin went unexplored, not a piece of physiology was passed over.  They sometimes stopped and held a conference, dozens of fingers lightly brushing against one spot or another.  It made very little sense, but it did not hurt very much, so he did not mind.  When they finished there was a series of ideas that meant something about getting some sleep, and he agreed to that with a sigh of relief.  He breathed the warm air that was easy to suck into his lungs, and let them do whatever they wanted as he slid away into a new quiet, dreaming place where he did not have to do anything but lie in the cocoon of blankets and try not to make the whining noises when the pain got too bad.

“John Crichton, does something hurt?” one of the Nice People asked in a near whisper. 

“Uh huh,” he answered, his voice muffled by the mask. 

“We will take care of the pain in a few microts.  If you can relax, that will help.” 

He was picked up, and toweled off, and dressed.  They finished drying his hair, and then they put him to bed.  Someone, someone, someone.  Someone used to do that a long time ago.  A face with light colored hair, safety and love.  He couldn’t remember. 

He was lifted, which was excruciating, carried to a quiet, dimly lit room, and laid on his side in another wondrously soft bed.  Pillows and covers were tugged into place, and he was finally left alone with the exception of a single Nice People who sat down at the foot of the bed.  A silent voice spoke, giving him an anchor for his thoughts, a hand touched his ankle and the pounding unpleasantness was pulled away, drawn from his body like someone was pulling a string.  He would have sobbed with relief if he had the energy left to make a noise, but he simply sighed instead and went to sleep. 

* * * * *

Aeryn followed the others as they approached the room where they were told they could find Crichton, searching through her emotions to determine why she was suddenly so hesitant to see him.  There was a breath-catching tightness in her chest wrapped around a fear that the remaining damage could not be repaired.  She had known it was a possibility from the first day they had brought him here, but she had not expected that concern to slow her footsteps to an amble at this moment.  Not when they had accomplished so much.  It was clear that Chiana did not have that problem.  The nebari was eagerly leading the way, showing no indecision about the next few moments.  She was bounding ahead to where Meylan waited for them beside a doorway. 

He waited until Aeryn moved into the small huddle and then began to speak softly even though the door was closed.  “We have finished our assessment, and have begun further repairs to Crichton’s nervous system.  You must keep in mind that there is still a great deal of damage to be addressed.”  Meylan let them absorb his information bit by bit.  “His capacity for language is severely restricted.  He understands far more than he can convey, but his access to his memory has been badly affected.”

“Crichton was talking before we got here,” Chiana objected, cocking her head as she watched Meylan’s reaction to her accusing tone.  “He was saying all sorts of things.  Is he worse than that now?  Why is he worse?”  She pulled her arm away from D’Argo, who was trying to calm her long enough for Meylan to explain. 

“His utterances before you arrived demonstrate what we have already determined -- that the knowledge is still there.  It is his access to that information that has suffered extensive degradation over the past days,” he said gently, focusing his gaze on Chiana.  “Most of the restrictions are due to physical injury.  Some of the regression, however, is due to deliberate sequestering.  John Crichton has used his free time to shut off certain memories that he does not wish to recall.”

“Explain the new losses,” D’Argo demanded.  “Why has his ability to speak gotten worse?” 

Meylan nodded in the luxan’s direction, acknowledging the need for further explanations.  “Each time we repair some of the injuries, other areas will be adversely affected.  Opening one door may result in another being closed in compensation.  All will be restored eventually.  It will, however, take a great deal of effort to complete the healing process.”     

This time it was D’Argo who broke away from the group, letting out a long growl as he stalked several paces to on side to kick at a wall.  The entire passageway seemed to undulate with the power of his blow.  His back remained turned, his head hanging, as Meylan continued. 

“We believe he will eventually make a full recovery, but you must be very patient.  He has already shown some small degree of improvement.  Take heart in that.  We will explain all of this in greater detail over the following days.  For now, he is anxious and it would help him to see all of you.” 

Meylan surveyed the silent group and the woeful expressions.  “It will not benefit him if he senses any distress or hesitation on your part.  I believe that all of his memory will return in time.  Now you must believe that before you go in to talk to him.  If you cannot provide that level of assurance, then I would ask that you wait here.”

Aeryn shouldered her way between Chiana and Rygel’s throne sled, freed from her moment of reluctance.  “I believe Crichton will recover fully.” 

D’Argo moved to Aeryn’s side in two long steps, his raised head and direct stare telling of his confidence in the future outcome. 

“I haven’t seen it, but I believe it.”  Although Chiana’s remark clearly puzzled Meylan, she continued to pace back and forth behind Aeryn and D’Argo without offering any further explanation. 

“I am confident that he will return to his annoying, loud, ugly, stubborn self,” Rygel said. 

There was silence from the remaining member of the group.  They all turned to look at Jool:  the intellectual, the educated pragmatist.  She shook her head.  “I want to see him restored to normal as badly as the rest of you, but he is so badly injured … I believe I would better serve his recovery if I do not go in with you.”  She looked directly at the assembled group, her icy reserve firmly in place, the apparent confidence betrayed by her fingers, which wandered untended to pick at the edge of her stiff garment.  “If he remembers me long enough to ask, you can tell him I went back to Moya in order to let her and Pilot know how he is doing.”

Aeryn was pleased that Jool had been honest about her reservations.  She had put John’s well-being above her own self-interest, risking the irritation of her companions in order to do what was right.  She reached toward the interon in thanks and understanding.  Jool’s head came back up, reinforcing her cool demeanor, and Aeryn settled for nodding her appreciation. 

“We are taking steps to alleviate some of John Crichton’s discomfort.  Do not permit his symptoms to discourage you.  He is in exceptional condition considering what he has been through.  Come.”  Meylan slid the door open and led the way into a dimly lit room. 

Aeryn followed first, carefully picking her way around a number of objects that looked a cross between medical instruments and odd fungal growths.  Her bare feet made no sound as she crossed the floor, which was warm and springy under her step and felt like the fibrous innards of a large plant.  This part of the sanctuary was well beyond the boundaries of the original ship that they had sunk here, and looked like it had been grown more than burrowed into the earth. 

She did not see John at first and as a result, she nearly bumped into Meylan when he stopped before she expected him to come to a halt. 

Crichton was lying on his side in a semi-spherical bunk suspended from a wall at about waist level.  His head rested on a large pillow, sinking in deeply enough that it was clear he had no control over his neck muscles, and the remainder of his body was buried under blankets.  Aside from his head, only one foot and ankle showed, and that was almost completely obscured by the hand of a priest who sat silently near the end of the bunk.  When Meylan had mentioned that they were alleviating John’s pain, she had not expected someone to be assuming this particular burden for arns at a time. 

Turning her attention away from that selflessness, her first glance in John’s direction was met by a pair of focused, alert eyes.  His delight at seeing them was immediate, only slightly diminished by the fact that he looked tired and mildly disoriented. 

“Heh!”  John’s typical greeting went a little wrong at the end. 

An instant later everyone was talking to him at once.  At first he looked pleased to have the excited group beside him, but under the barrage of greetings and comments his expression gradually reverted to the confused fretful look that was rapidly becoming a familiar sight.  Aeryn dropped out of the chaos first, and put her hand lightly on his cheek to reassure him.  Behind her, the others quieted down.  John let out a sigh and gave them all a mild, wan-looking smile. 

Aeryn looked at Meylan.  “Will it hurt him if we touch him now?” 

Although he shook his head, something in his expression suggested that there would be pain and that any physical hurt would be more than offset by a benefit. 

Aeryn turned her attention back to John and ran her thumb along his jaw.  “You look pretty good for someone who drowned.” 

He smiled more widely, sighed, and didn’t say anything.  She moved away from his head so the others could move into his line of sight, letting her hand slide down his body as she went, maintaining a light contact so he would know she had not left completely.  John watched her until she came to a stop near his feet, then returned to smile at the rest of his friends.

“Deh,” he greeted the person standing closest. 

“How are you feeling, John?”  D’Argo’s hand brushed a quick hello against his hair in time with the quiet inquiry. 

“Beh-er.”  The body under the blankets shook slightly, belying his short assurance, but the smile on his face did not waver for a microt.  Another shudder hit him and he almost grunted, letting out a small unvoiced exhalation.  His stare remained locked on the luxan next to him.  “Yuh?” 

“He’s a lot cleaner than he’s been since you’ve known him, Crichton.  It’s good to see you awake.”  Chiana slid in front of D’Argo, crouching down to get face to face with the bundled astronaut.  “I’m really glad to see you.” 

“Me. Too. Pi’.” 

Although he continued to look pleased to have his friends by his bedside, Aeryn noticed that the lines around his eyes were starting to get deeper and he was sweating. 

“Who … ‘ere?”  He was trying to see more of the figure that was hidden behind everyone else. 

“Crichton.”  Rygel moved into the space created by D’Argo and Chiana moving to the sides.  “I suppose you will be back on Moya with your incessant chatter all too soon.”  His earbrows arched upwards as he waited for a reply. 

John struggled with something, sweating harder with each passing microt.  “’pardnie,” he finally produced on a small burst of air, and then he grinned at the hynerian.

“Sparky,” Aeryn deciphered, and got a tiny nod of confirmation from John.

“Absolutely no change at all,” Rygel grumbled, but the earbrows had not drooped.  If anything they had lifted even higher. 

John shifted slightly under the blankets and squeezed his eyes shut for a moment, suddenly pale.  He was still smiling when he looked at them, but it was requiring more effort with every passing microt, and he was starting to look as though he felt ill. 

D’Argo noticed the change and moved to cut the visit short.  He squatted down to meet Crichton face to face the way Chiana had done.  “You need to get some more rest, and it looks like they’re taking excellent care of you, John.  Get some sleep, and we’ll be nearby if you need anything.”

“Geyh.  Buyh.”  He watched as they began leaving.  “A’yn.  D’n go?”  She returned to crouch next to him, balancing on her toes, resting her forearm on the side of the bed and then placing her chin on top.  Chiana glanced back at where they faced each other, nose to nose, smiled broadly, and then followed the others out of the room. 

“What?” Aeryn asked him.  She began a motion that would have led to stroking his cheek, driven by a deep desire to maintain some form of physical contact with him.  John watched the fingers approach without a complaint, but his eyes narrowed just before she would have touched him.  It was an involuntary flinch in preparation for anticipated discomfort.  She made a detour and brushed against his hair instead, repeatedly flipping one or two damp tufts.  John relaxed.  Tension settled out of his shoulders, and he suddenly looked exhausted. 

“Wha’s … M’ya?” he said, struggling through the small syllables.     

She thought about the answer for a few microts, comparing the obvious answer to the types of images she had encountered during the Meetings.  “She’s huge.  A gleaming, bronze beast of burden shining in the starlight.  She has long golden hallways, and she makes rumbling noises all the time.  She does this amazing thing called starburst when we are in a hurry.”  She saw the relief on his face and stopped. 

“Shi’ … S’bace ship.”  He thought about it a bit longer.  “Arms.  Who’s … arms?”  She watched with growing concern as it took more and more effort for him to form words.  Crichton coughed deeply several times, eyes closing as the spasms set off an obviously vicious reaction throughout his body.  A trickle of fluid ran across the pillow from the corner of his mouth, followed by more as another bout of coughing shook him. 

“Hold on, I’ll get --” 

A hand touched her hip, startling Aeryn to the point that she jumped and lost her balance.  She clutched at the edge of the bunk, hauling herself back to her precarious position sitting on her heels.  She took the proffered towel out of the hand of the priest, dividing her attention between the person at the foot of the bunk who was assuming much of John’s pain, and the patient himself who was snuffling into the pillow, laughing at her. 

“Think that’s funny?” she asked him, wanting to laugh herself just because he was recovered to the point where he could find humor in such a small event. 

“Tid nuffer,” he snickered.

She could not turn it into anything recognizable.  “Can you say it again?  Slower?”

“Ti’d ofer,” he said on the second try, still laughing at her. 

“I tipped over?  You’re laughing because I lost my balance?”

John nodded.   

She didn’t respond to his goading as she mopped away the small puddle, using the microts to search for some trivial, lighthearted comment that might not challenge his faulty memory.  “You’ll get yours later,” she threatened finally, blotting away the sweat that rolled down his face.  “You’ve done enough for one day.  Go to sleep.”

“Nuh.  ‘rms?  Whoss …” 

She laid a finger on his lips to silence him.  “I’ll tell you.  Save your energy.” 

John made another attempt to say something, setting off another bout of coughing. 

“Will you shut up, Crichton?” she said, reprimanding him.  She settled forward onto her knees and stared into the blue eyes, immersing herself in the awareness present there.  “I can’t believe how nice it is to be able to say that to you.”  He stared back, making no further attempt to talk.  “Arms,” she confirmed.  He nodded almost entirely with his eyes, barely moving his head.  “That’s Pilot.  He’s part of Moya now.  They exist together.”

John looked puzzled.  Aeryn leaned back from the bunk and gesticulated.  “Huge shell like this” -- her hands waved to either side of her head, describing an object wider than her shoulders -- “and eyes like this.  Only when he gets excited, his eyes bulge out.” 

As her hands made another wild gesture his face finally cleared, understanding achieved.  “Ca’s … me … ”  He got stuck on the next syllable.

“He calls you Commander Crichton,” Aeryn filled in for him.  “Can you not worry about this anymore and get some rest?”  She touched his cheek lightly.  “Or would you like me to stay for a little longer?”  The Pa’u at his feet stopped chanting, pulled the blankets down and left the room without speaking.  John showed no sign that the healer’s absence was affecting him.

“C’n go.  I … s’eep.”  As if to prove himself right, his eyes closed and he was suddenly gone.  Aeryn remained kneeling nose to nose with him, playing lightly with one errant tuft of hair, tugging at it repeatedly.  She stopped when his expression shifted slightly, waiting until he settled down again.  She pulled the one lock down into place and watched as it sprang back up.  The motion was repeated several more times with the same results, then she got to her feet and stretched, feeling exhausted all of a sudden.

“Sleep well, John Crichton.”  The corners of his mouth might have twitched, tugging it into a hint of a smile, but other than that, he did not stir.

* * * * *


Aeryn walked into the quarters that had been provided for them to find Chiana and Jool already stretched out and half asleep.  It was the equivalent of early afternoon in the delvian habitat and they all seemed to be headed for bed rather early.  She sat down on the edge of the bunk she had been using and tried to summon the energy to pull off her clothes.

“It’s the relief,” said Jool, after she had been sitting there for more than twenty microts.  “Release of the tension.” 

“It’s ridiculous,” Aeryn countered, knowing she did not have the energy to stay awake, and feeling as if she was being weak anyway.  “I got up late this morning.” 

Chiana rolled over to look at her, white hair already a mess from burrowing into the pillow.  “We’ve all been awake for almost thirty five solar days, Aeryn.  Ever since he got captured.  Face it and get some sleep.  He’ll still be here in the morning.” 

‘He’ll still be here.’  It sounded so nice.  Aeryn lay down fully clothed and went to sleep. 


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

97
Crashfic / Chapter 8
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 09, 2016, 08:33:09 PM »
Chapter 8

Wake missing Aeryn.  Longing for her before he leaves sleep behind.  He was floating, but where?  There was a light mental touch and he opened his eyes to discover that he was surrounded by blue.  He remembered that there were people called delvians. 

I am John Crichton, an astronaut.  Aeryn and the others are here. 

Where is here?  What was there before Aeryn?  There should be more.  There was someone called Mom.  Who was Mom, where was Mom, what was Mom?  Where did she belong in the vast empty spaces within his mind?
 

There was plenty of time to consider these things.  He was … underwater.  That was supposed to be strange.  He tried to stretch, hurting intensely.  His body ignored him and went on feeling tight and cramped.  He went back to considering the underwater situation.  A deep breath worked, although he didn’t know why it did … or why he thought it shouldn’t, for that matter.  He tried a small sniff.  It didn’t feel particularly different from when he wasn’t underwater, except a bit thicker.  The flood in his chest was soothing.  He floated and waited, considering the small group of things that made sense.  This wasn’t quite as peaceful as the quiet dreaming place, but it felt safe and somehow he knew that Aeryn would come to see him here.   

The wafting reverie was broken by someone grasping him firmly about the sides of his head.  He started to open his eyes to investigate this event, but there was a sensation like someone knocking at a door in his mind and he veered away from the physical embrace to examine this latest experience. 

Good morning, John.  Are you awake? 

No. I’m sleeping. 

Is that supposed to be funny? 

Guess not. 

How do you feel? 

Like crap, but I’m alive.  I found out something interesting that you forgot to tell me yesterday, Aeryn. 

What’s that? 

I appear to have drowned. 

Can a wraith laugh?  Can a mental ghost be filled with joy at a returning peculiar sense of humor and laugh with relief even if the joke was pretty stupid?  Yes, it could.  It was not the rebirth of happiness, but gestation had begun, the sprouting of something within him that promised to blossom into the cheerful way he went through life.  He shared his view of the laughing figure bending over him, rubbing his chest to reassure him that he was not drowned, he was alive, and that this very weird spot to sleep was not going to kill him, and for the first time -- for a discernable moment -- there wasn’t any fear. 

Aeryn? 

She felt the overwhelming mass of anxiety in his single gentle touch.   

Who is John?  I can’t remember.  You said I would … but I don’t. 

She thought about this problem for several microts then, instead of answering his question, asked him something else.  Who is Aeryn Sun? 

She faltered as he showed her everything he knew of her. 

“Aeryn, are you all right?” 

The deep voice drew her out of her dazed shock and she turned to look at D’Argo.  The luxan had been sitting patiently at the side of the pool.  He was standing now, tense muscles shouting out his concern.  Aeryn looked between him and Meylan several times, struggling with the familiar disorientation that they all encountered for a few microts every time they exited John’s psyche. 

“What is the matter, Aeryn?  Is John all right?” 

“Everything.  He remembers everything about me,” she said, her voice cracking under the strain of containing her emotions.  “Everything.  How is that possible?”  She crossed her arms and shivered, distraught at the discovery that John had retained those memories when his own identity had been obliterated.   

“It was his refuge, the place where he went to escape what was being done to him.  He preserved it to the last, Aeryn Sun.”  Meylan touched her lightly on the arm.  “It was not sacrifice, it was survival.”  He looked down at the submerged figure.  “He needs you; he is concerned about your departure.  Do you have the energy to return?”

Aeryn nodded and allowed him to guide her back into John’s mind.  The entry was far more difficult this morning, pushing in against his own rapidly expanding consciousness instead of the easy entry into a place where he barely existed.  The symbols were far more complex as well, sometimes exceeding her ability to interpret what he was trying to convey.  She felt Meylan increase the pressure, and she was suddenly with John. 

The fear was back; the rare moment of tranquility lost.  If she had been alone and embodied, she would have punched something to alleviate her anger over what her unplanned departure had done to him.  She bound up her frustration in hopes that he would not notice it and consoled him instead. 

I’m here.  It’s all right.  I only wandered off for a microt.  You know I’m here this morning, you can see me standing alongside you.   

Why … I didn’t mean … I don’t … I thought … I don’t know why you left. 

Were you scared? 

No. Yes.  No.  I don’t know.  I’m confused. 

And scared? 

I’m scared, Aeryn.  And I hurt, and I’m tired of hurting.  I don’t want to hurt anymore, and I’m scared.  Who is John? 

He is the person who is standing next to Aeryn every time you think of Aeryn. 

She could feel him considering that, comparing it against his memories of her.  They want to help you with that, John.  Will you let them?  You have to let them into your mind in order for them to help. 

Will you stay with me? 

I can’t … not for this. 

I don’t know, I don’t know.  I’m confused, Aeryn.  I don’t understand.

I would like you to let them do this, John.  Please?  For me? 

An odd, complicated symbol that involved reluctance and loathing floated back to her first, followed by a quieter image. 

All right. 

Aeryn withdrew gradually, taking the time to let him know she would be nearby if he needed her.  Even after she left his mind, she continued to rub lightly behind his ears until his neck relaxed and his head dropped back.  He looked up and gave her a small smile, looking every bit as apprehensive as his mind had felt. 

“Take his hand, Aeryn Sun,” Meylan said.  “We will let you know if you need to leave him completely.” 

She did as he suggested, holding John’s hand tightly as Meylan and one other priest moved to his head and began a quiet chant.  John’s eyes closed and a quiver ran through his body, a long shuddering complaint that seemed to originate somewhere other than in his physical existence.  Aeryn squeezed his hand more tightly, rubbing her thumb across his knuckles, and suddenly she knew that they were in his mind.  She felt his muscles go rigid for an instant and then he relaxed completely except for a strange sort of hum coming from his body, reverberating through his hand.  She let go and eased toward the edge of the pool. 

The ones she had told him about arrived, pressing against his thoughts, asking him to let them enter his consciousness.  Aeryn had asked him to let this happen and he had agreed.  He tried to let them in, but he didn’t know how to remove the barriers. 

Just do it! he called to them.  Force your way in. 

There was an agonizing thrust against his mind and then they were there, inside with him.  But he was still fighting them despite his best intentions not to resist.  They showed him something about lifting the confusion and showing him who John was and where he belonged, and he took one more deep breath, thought of Aeryn, and finally managed to lower the barriers he had erected. 

It started as a tickle, a tiny prickling inside his mind.  A small flood of images spooled out before him too fast to be understood.  Psychic fingers delved further into his consciousness, coaxing the tangle into more sense, pulling the knots of damage free and loosing the flow of mental energy.  The pain was increasing though, from a mild discomfort to a pounding explosion that seemed to double with every passing microt. 

It hurts! he called to them.  It hurts!

He was told that it would be just a little longer, and then they would make it go away, but they opened another floodgate of images and the agony rolled over him, spreading out in all directions.
 

Aeryn jumped to her feet as Crichton wrenched himself completely out of the grasp of the delvians.  D’Argo and the others were beside her instantly as the explosion of spray in the pool obscured his convulsing body.  The four delvians scrambled about trying to grab him, but he was throwing himself about too violently, defeating their attempts to restrain him.  D’Argo jumped into the pool without bothering to remove his clothes, and threw himself over the spastically thrashing human, carrying him deeper into the water.  Aeryn followed a microt later followed closely by Jool and Chiana. 

D’Argo came up for air.  He was clutching John tightly around the head and shoulders, fighting to keep him submerged.  Aeryn forced herself between Meylan and one of the other healers and captured Crichton’s arms, hanging on tight as the straining muscles gained leverage, thus increasing their ability to apply force. 

“I thought this wasn’t supposed to hurt him!” she said to Meylan.  Some of the fierce bucking died down as the others managed to snare his legs. 

“We underestimated his response.”  Meylan released an ankle into the grasp of one of the other priests and moved around to stand by John’s head.  “I am truly sorry.  We were about to address his discomfort when he broke free.” 

He grasped Crichton’s head and closed his eyes.  The frantic surges from the patient continued.  Meylan took a deep breath and ducked under water in order to place his forehead against John’s.  Aeryn watched, fighting to hold both arms, and knew that he was having trouble getting into John’s mind.  He came up for air and shook his head.     

“Make this stop now,” D’Argo said.  “John is going to damage himself if this continues much longer.”

Aeryn glanced first to where Chiana and Jool were doing what they could to restrain the wild movements, and then checked to see how D’Argo was coping.  “Can you hang on to him alone?” she asked him, and shifted to one side to make room.  D’Argo looped one arm around John’s chest and snared his arms with the other. 

Aeryn waded to his head just as Meylan came up for air a second time.  “Take me in, he’ll trust me.” 

“He is in a great deal of distress,” he began. 

“Take me in!”  She placed her hands over Meylan’s, not bothering to rearrange their grasp.  “D’Argo is right.  If we don’t stop this, he’ll injure himself.” 

Aeryn closed her eyes and tried to concentrate on firmness of thought, making herself into an arrow that could pierce any defenses John might have put up.  Meylan thrust hard, pushing her before him, and she was suddenly inside, but without the backup of the delvian.  She was tossed back out just as abruptly as she arrived. 

“Hezmana, he’s frantic.  Try again.  Hold on tight this time.  I won’t be able to maintain contact if you aren’t there to help me.”  She looked at Meylan and he nodded. 

MAKE IT STOP! 

It was ripping him apart, shredding each and every nerve bundle and neuron in his brain into fragments, which then grew into larger chunks of pain, only to fracture and grow again, the blinding white light of his agony growing exponentially.  Worse than the pain was the fact that he was being held down, the clue that told him that something much worse was going to follow.  He poured every ounce of his anguish into the attempt to break free.
 

John!  Stop what you’re doing and listen to me. 

Aeryn?  It came out on a scream that he couldn’t prevent.  Please, please … oh God it hurts.  They’re going to make it hurt worse.  Don’t let them, don’t let them, don’t let -- 

No, they’re not.  Stop fighting us. 

They’re holding me down.  That’s how it always starts. You promised, you promised you wouldn’t let them do this to me again.  I can’t survive this another time, Aeryn! 

John!  This is not the Others.  Let us fix this.  Let them inside.

I’ll try, but--

Don’t try … DO IT! 

He focused on Aeryn, thought of his trust, and did his best to cooperate. 

Aeryn felt herself being gathered, bound into a projectile, and then she was tossed like a lance into John’s small mental breach, Meylan hanging on for the ride.  She staggered back out immediately, out of the inner recesses that hid the last of the pain-filled secrets, leaving Meylan behind. 

Hang on, John, it’ll be over in a microt, hang on.  Don’t fight Meylan.  He’s trying to help. 

Oh Goddddddd. 

The pain was suddenly gone. 

Meylan appeared in the mental space again, looking haggard and tired.  Aeryn pulled out of the Meeting and looked down at John’s face between her hands.  He was gulping in water, that and his heaving chest the only moving parts of his body now that the crisis was over.  She rubbed both sides of his jaw, and he opened his eyes and looked at her, the emotional hurt as obvious as his physical distress. 

‘I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  I didn’t know that was going to happen.  Neither did they.’  She could only hope that he would receive and understand the silently transmitted thought.  He closed his eyes and shook his head in watery slow motion.  She could not tell whether he was trying to deny what had just happened in response to her message, or if it was a purposeless motion to relieve the muscular strain. 

‘Aeryn?’  

The thought was as clear as if he had spoken it aloud.  John stopped and she rubbed his neck, feeling the overwrought muscles spasming beneath her fingers.  He still did not continue and she nudged him, a wordless encouragement to continue. 

‘I don’t ever want to do that again.  Can we make a promise?  Please say I don’t have to do that again.  Please?’ 

He was wheedling, as though he knew she could not assure him and was hoping for a miracle anyway.   

‘We’ll see, John.  I’ll do my best.’ 

She looked up at Meylan, who had straightened up and was staggering a little himself.  It was the first time she had seen the sixteenth level Pa’u this badly affected by something that occurred on a mental level, and it spoke legions about the level of pain and distress John had been experiencing.  John’s plea that it never be allowed to happen again took on more meaning. 

“Will it be necessary for him to go through anything like that again?” she asked

“It should not have hurt that much.  We will have to delve more deeply to discover the source, and that may result in a recurrence, but we will do our best to avoid it.” 

Meylan shiftted his grasp to include John’s temples, and closed his eyes.  “There is … an injury … a trauma, deeper inside; one that I could not fully examine.  We will evaluate it in a few more days.  For now, he needs some rest, and then we will see about getting him out of the water.”

“But he just woke up!” 

She could not accept that Meylan and the delvians thought they should wait any longer to take John out of the pool.  She wanted him sitting beside her, dry and looking like a human being again, no matter how badly injured, not floating like some sort of refugee from a water world.  She wanted John Crichton back, and as long as he was submerged, there was a barrier between them that suggested he would never be the same ever again. 

Meylan looked around at the nods of agreement coming from the entire crew, and took the time to explain, speaking to Aeryn but talking to the entire group.  “John Crichton possesses very little in the way of energy reserves and stamina, Aeryn Sun.  His current surroundings require almost no expenditure of effort, which creates a façade of health.  As soon as he is out of the pool and subject to the whims of gravity, you will see that he is very weak and very badly injured.  We had planned to remove him from the pool this morning, but the events of the last few microts will have drained him.  He needs to rest before we ask him to make the physical effort necessary to return the rest of the way to rejoin you.”

It was the longest she had ever heard Meylan talk.  The priest normally confined his explanations to one or two short sentences heavily laden with meaning.  Going to the trouble of laying out all of the details could only mean that she and the others needed to heed his advice.  She checked quickly on the others, received four gestures indicating that they were in agreement, and then nodded to Meylan. 

“Let him rest.  We can wait a few more arns,” she said, acquiescing to the delvian’s superior knowledge and wisdom. 

Everyone gradually released Crichton, watching to make sure the frenzy was truly over.  He stretched slightly, something similar to a whole body quiver and then started to curl up again, sinking to hover just above the bottom of the pool.  Meylan ducked under to check on him, stroking his head lightly with both hands, then surfaced to face the assembly of concerned faces.  “He is sleeping,” he announced.  “We will have someone stay with him for the next few arns to make sure he remains calm and comfortable.  After that, we will wake him and get him out of the pool.”

* * * * *


He dreamed.  He dreamed of a place where he didn’t hurt, and no one came to hurt him.  A place where he was safe and Aeryn was with him, and no one threatened them or tried to kill them.  A place where he wasn’t afraid, and he didn’t get injured, and they could live happily together.  But he didn’t know where it was, and didn’t recognize any of the blank misty walls around him.  And Aeryn wasn’t with him.  He curled up, lonely and exhausted, and cried himself to sleep.

* * * * *


John, can you hear me? 

Aeryn? 

Yes, I’m right here.  Open your eyes and look at me.  How are you feeling now? 

I … I’m okay.  I’m glad you’re here. 

His relief swept over her, once again stunning her with its intensity.  Why are you glad? 

The other place was calling to me – the quiet dreaming place.  It wanted me to come back.  I kept saying no.  I promised to say no, but -- 

But it was getting harder to resist. 

Yes.  What should I do, Aeryn? 

How about you come out of here, out of the water, and come back to me.  Are you ready to come out? 

I don’t know how to.  Is it possible?  How do I go from here to there?   

Some delvians are going to help you and I’ll be nearby in case you need mouth to mouth. 

He knew that her final remark had significance, but the event wouldn’t come to mind.  He chased it and it eluded him, always moving faster than his pursuit.  He abandoned the quest so he could answer her.  All right. 

Aeryn left.  She was replaced by something blue.  He waited, wondering.
 

A suggestion in his head asked him to take three breaths to get ready, and then to exhale as hard as he could, to keep exhaling until it hurt.  John did his best to obey, struggling with muscles that refused to answer most of his commands.  The three breaths operated on their own without difficulty.  It was the second part that refused to come off as planned.  He tried anyway, fighting to control his own body.  As he struggled to exhale, several hands descended on his diaphragm and helped push until his stomach and lungs began to ache.  He was wordlessly exhorted to keep going, encouraged to evacuate every square dench of his lungs.  That was when a set of arms slid around him from behind and forced even more water out of his lungs; firm hands continued to push on his diaphragm.  The watery scenery around him began to go gray and then black, and he wondered if they intended to kill him.  His ribs were compressed even further, more liquid eased from his throat, and the pool and everyone in it seemed to move very far away. 

Just as he was convinced that he was dying, and ached to say goodbye to Aeryn before it happened, John was pulled vigorously out of the water in a burst of spray and his chest was released. 

He whooped, sucked air into starved lungs, coughed, and sucked in another breath, feeling an uncomfortable gurgle down deep.  The world came back in a bound:  loud, uncomfortable, too bright, and above all else, cold.  Water trickled into the back of his throat, setting off a bout of coughing, followed by a racking string of sneezes.  He got two good breaths in before more water streamed out of his sinuses and he began coughing again, spraying moisture back into the water.  Each and every movement was agonizing, and he could do nothing to get it to stop.  The draining and coughing went on for almost thirty microts.  Then he sneezed three more times, snapping a fine spray of water out of his hair with each of the nasal based convulsions, and it was over. 

He lay in someone’s grasp, his lower body floating freely while the person behind him held his head and shoulders clear of the water.  A familiar delvian face smiled down at him, prompting an attempt at greeting one of the Nice People.  His mouth and throat refused to make the appropriate noises.  All that came out was a garbled squawk. 

“John?” 

Aeryn appeared at his side like a hallucination.  He could hardly believe she was right there before his eyes.  It felt like it had been … a length of time he could not remember the term for … since he had last seen her.  He tried to reach for her hand, but his arm did not work any better than his voice.  Coming out of the water was beginning to have some distinct drawbacks.  No matter how furiously he glared at his offending hand and tried to will it to reach toward Aeryn, it continued to float uselessly in the water. 

Aeryn picked up his hand as though drawn to it by his thoughts and held his palm against her cheek. 

He couldn’t feel her.

There were prickles, and a burning sensation, and pain, but there wasn’t the soft, warm surface beneath his fingers that he was sure he was supposed to be feeling at that moment.  In spite of having her right there beside him, he suddenly missed Aeryn more intensely than before.  “Gnn,” came out of his throat when he tried to say her name.  He wanted to tell her there was something terribly wrong with his body. 

“Nnn?”  The second attempt at her name was no better than the first. 

“Give it time,” she told him.  “Remember that you were drowned.”

An attempt to answer her turned into an extended bout of coughing.  When it was over, he was so tired he could barely breathe and he was desperately worried because no part of his body seemed to work right.  To make matters worse, he couldn’t tell anyone about the problem.   

“John.”  Her voice drew his attention away from the growing panic and back to the intensely caring gray-blue eyes.  “Listen carefully.  You’re injured.  We know that.  We know that you can’t move, and we know that certain things don’t feel the way they’re supposed to.  Everyone here is going to take care of you for a while, and they are going to help you get better.  Do you understand?” 

Aeryn’s voice sounded different from the one he had been listening to for the last several days, something to be pondered later.  The important thing was that the sounds Aeryn was making slowly sorted themselves out into some concepts he could understand, and he was not as scared any longer.  Instead of trying to speak, which had already proven futile, he tried a nod for an answer.  His body cooperated long enough to provide a small one. 

“They’re going to take you out of the pool now,” Aeryn said.  “Relax.” 

He was towed to the side of the pool where he was lifted into a mass of towels wielded by a small crowd of the Nice People.  Once they had him thoroughly mummified, they started to carry him away, only to be brought to an abrupt halt by a quiet request from somewhere behind him.  They set him down straddling a bench.  Two of the strangers remained, sitting behind him and holding him upright. 

He was tired and cold, and sitting up was uncomfortable.  Nothing made any sense, there was no clue to explain what they were waiting for, and he fervently wished they would take him some place warm and comfortable where he could go back to sleep.  Before he could sort out some sounds that might transmit his wishes, one of the people behind him grasped him gently by the chin and raised his head so he could see what was going on. 

Aeryn was walking toward him, her head tilted to one side with an expression that looked like she did not know whether to laugh or cry.  Presented with the most beautiful sight he could remember ever seeing, all his concerns about fatigue and pain and cold dropped away in an instant.  The only remaining regret was that he could not tell her how much he enjoyed looking at her.  He wanted to ask her to remove the towel she had wrapped around her waist so he could see what she had on underneath.  It gapped open with every other step, showing the long, unencumbered line of her leg and the hint of light blue trunk-like shorts.  There was a thin boundary of midriff showing above the rolled edge of the towel, and then a tight-fitting sleeveless top that left her arms bare.

He tried to tell her anyway, knowing ahead of time that it was unlikely she would understand.  It came out sounding like “Noo-ga-fuh.” 

Aeryn stopped half a motra away and smiled at him.  “Beautiful,” she interpreted. 

“Eh,” he agreed. 

She crossed the remaining distance between them and sat down in front of him.  Her hand passed through his water-soaked hair several times as she simply stared into his eyes. 

“Welcome back,” she greeted him at last, and pulled him into a hug. 

A second set of hands guided his head forward so it rested on Aeryn’s shoulder, there was one more small adjustment to make sure he would not fall over, and then he was alone with her.  Most of the sensations did not feel right.  There were bits and pieces of memories about what it was supposed to feel like to have Aeryn’s arms around him, and none of it was supposed to hurt.  He could barely make out the firm pressure of her body against his, and the touch of her hand moving up and down his back left a stream of pain in its wake.  It was supposed to feel much nicer than this. 

But in the end, it was Aeryn, and she was holding him, and that was enough. 

“Give it time,” she whispered in his ear, somehow knowing that he was upset.  “It will get better, and then we will do this again.” 

“Geyh,” his mouth said instead of ‘okay’. 

They stayed that way -- with him helpless to do anything but lean his full body weight against her, and with Aeryn’s strong, supple arms keeping him safe -- long enough for him to discover that it was easier to breathe with her arms around him.  Everything was easier with her arms around him, as a matter of fact.  Coping with the lights and the loud sounds and the cold and the fatigue were all bearable as long as Aeryn had her arms around him and her fingers were brushing through the hair at the back of his head.  It didn’t matter that it hurt, or that each sensation was like a feeling that had been borrowed from someone who experienced the universe differently than he did.  All that mattered was that he was there, and Aeryn was there, and she was talking to him and stroking his back.   

He spent several microts working to loosen his throat, tried clearing it a little, and then attempted the talking trick another time.  “Lo’ you,” emerged on a strangled cough and a trickle of water coming from his nose. 

“I know you do.”  Aeryn shifted to one side so she could wipe his face with an edge of a towel, and then she pulled him tightly against her.  “You showed me that yesterday.  Thank you.”

“Th’ng f’wha?”  Aeryn continued to rub his back through the towels.  It was worth every bit of effort he had put into surviving long enough to arrive at this moment.  He was close to a breakdown. 

“For coming back to me.  For not quitting yesterday.  I understand how hard that was for you.”  She finished by kissing the side of his neck, still holding him tightly. 

The breakdown arrived and he was incapable of doing anything to hide that he was crying.  But Aeryn was talking to someone else, and a pair of hands lifted his head and rolled it to the side.  When he came to rest, his nose was tucked into the hollow of Aeryn’s neck where he could smell her, the smooth skin of her shoulder was pressing against his cheek, and best of all, his face was hidden from view. 

“Go ahead,” she encouraged him in a thick voice that he thought might mean she was crying too.  “That’s good.”

Aeryn shifted her hug to a spot higher on his shoulders, cradled the back of his head with one hand, and rocked them together.  Sometimes she whispered small encouragements to him, and sometimes she rubbed his back, but most of all she simply held him and did her best to merge their two bodies into one, making up for his inability to move.  He wanted to tell her some things about how wonderful this felt, and how glad he was that they were there together.  But the only two words that ever came out sounding anything like the way they were supposed to were “Lof you”.  He said them several times, hoping she would understand that he wanted to say more.  It seemed to be more than enough for Aeryn.     

“I think you’re probably cold and tired,” she said eventually. 

“Heh,” he said into the side of her neck.  He had meant to say ‘Yeah’. 

“They’re going to take care of that.  Relax and trust them, John.” 

“Geyh.” 

Aeryn released him and he was tilted back into a flurry of firm but gentle hands.  They were passing through a doorway when he noticed that Aeryn wasn’t with him anymore. 

‘AERYN!?’ he called, frightened by her absence.  Being carried through a doorway meant bad things were going to happen to him.  The people carrying him took no notice of his scream.  Aeryn must have heard him though because she reappeared by his side at a run.  Everyone stopped moving so she could talk to him. 

“I need to dry off and get dressed.  I want you to trust them, John.  Listen carefully.  They will not hurt you.   I will come find you in an arn or two.” 

He looked around at the host of calm blue faces, remembered something Aeryn had told him once about ‘Nice People’, and began to calm down. 

“Geyh.” 

“I will catch up to you soon.  Remember one thing for me, John.  You need to remember that you can trust them.” 

“Geyh.”

“Trust them.  Trust the Nice People,” she repeated.  “If they want to do something to you, trust them.  They won’t hurt you.  Remember that for me.”

“Geyh.” 

He kept his eyes on Aeryn until they turned a corner and she was out of sight.  After that there was little to look at except the ceiling and walls moving past him and the look-alike Nice People who were carrying him, none of which was very interesting.  And he was tired to the point of exhaustion, so he let himself drift off, and at some point fell asleep, still thinking of having Aeryn’s arms around him and her quiet whispers filling his ears.

* * * * *

98
Crashfic / Chapter 7
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 09, 2016, 08:32:38 PM »
Chapter 7

“We believe it is time.  There is nothing more to be accomplished by letting him remain locked away.  You have all tried repeatedly to lure him the rest of the way across the boundary, and he is resisting as fiercely as the first day.  It must be done with caring, but he will have to be forced to come back.  He is not going to do it on his own.”  Meylan faced the assembled group and waited patiently for their reaction. 

John had been immersed for just over sixteen planetary days and they had all made dozens of Meetings with him.  He had come close to emerging with Aeryn one evening two days earlier, but he had turned back forcefully before the transition and had not been willing to attempt it since.  No one had been able to get him to reveal any portion of what had happened during the time he was imprisoned, other than when they caught an echo of his screams.  Only D’Argo had gotten the one glimpse of the ‘Others’, and they were convinced from his quick impression that it was the scarrans. 

“Do we need to take him through what did this to him?  Or can we get him out without doing that?”  Aeryn addressed her question to the entire group of delvians gathered in the pool room.  It was going to take five of the priests to get the entire group into John’s mind.  She smiled at the image of the five of them jammed into tight quarters along with John.  That alone would drive her insane. 

“You will have to determine that as you try to draw him out.  We will be riding along and will offer our advice if we believe you are handling a situation incorrectly.  You have all shown a deep insight into his needs, however.  We believe you are well equipped to handle this journey.  Our capacity to coax him out is no greater than yours, and it would be the work of strangers, which might worsen any damage.”

“What if we are unable to convince John to come with us?”  D’Argo asked in a low grumble.

“We will continue trying as long as you wish.  If you are not successful on this attempt, however, then I suspect that his withdrawal will be permanent.  Be compassionate, but you must not give up until you are absolutely certain that you cannot get him to emerge.” 

“How the frell are we supposed to figure that out?” said Chiana.  “Is there going to be a big sign posted saying ‘Give The Frell Up’?”  She was stalking back and forth behind the others, giving action to the tension that was manifest in all of them. 

Lorana answered the question, eyeing the quintet gravely.  “If you convince him to move away from his refuge and he manages, despite your efforts, to retreat all the way back to where you started, that would indicate a decision on his part that he intends to stay.  If he stops but does not retreat then you should continue trying.”  She looked around the nervous group.  “You have all displayed a keen understanding of John Crichton.  I do not believe you will misjudge him this time.  Your compassion will guide you correctly.”

“What will happen to Crichton if we cannot get him to come out with us?”  Rygel seemed grumpy as he asked the question.  His tone of voice was belied by his next statement.  “If he won’t come out, we can’t just leave him like this.  He’s in there, we can’t abandon him.”  He looked quickly at Aeryn before turning back toward the priests.  “It wouldn’t be like he was insane.  He’s acting as rationally as Crichton ever gets.”   

“That may be a decision you never have to make.”  Tahleen’s voice was like a cold breeze, barely touching them but leaving a chill behind as they contemplated the cost of not succeeding.  “Do not think about failure.  Remain positive and supportive, and do not yield easily if he resists.” 

There was no break between Tahleen’s last word and the sound of Meylan’s voice.  “Remember that you are not attempting to persuade him.  The last several days have made it clear that you will have to force him to abandon his refuge.”

“Crichton is going to resist,” Rygel said.

“Yes,” Meylan said.  “Undoubtedly.”

The room remained quiet for several microts while everyone considered that pronouncement. 

“You do not mean resist,” D’Argo said once Meylan’s words had sunk in.  “You mean John is actually going to fight us.”

“I believe so.  He is happy where he is.  There is always the possibility that he will accompany you without a struggle, but --”

“But he is too frelling stubborn for that to come true,” Chiana said. 

“I believe so,” Meylan said again, this time with a mournful smile and a nod in the young nebari’s direction.

“And we should force him to come with us anyway,” Aeryn said, confirming that their strategy had just shifted. 

“With compassion,” Lorana said.  “He knows you care for him.  That is what separates what you are about to do to him from cruelty.” 

“Does anyone want to skip this Meeting?” Aeryn asked the others.  There was no hesitation in her own mind, but in light of the revelation about what lay ahead, she did not want any of the others to feel they were being forced into taking part.  She looked at each of her crewmates in turn, finding the firm determination she had anticipated from D’Argo and Chiana, and an equal degree of commitment from Jool and Rygel. 

“We may have to take John back through what the scarrans did to him,” she warned one more time.  “He has said several times that there is something he has to do before he can leave.  That is what is stopping him.”   

“We’re in on this,” Chiana said firmly, speaking for the entire group. 
 
* * * * *


Crichton had been moved back to the larger pool where the delvians had begun forcing more oxygen into the already saturated water.  Meylan had explained that they expected John’s impending ordeal to upset him, which meant that he would be using more oxygen than normal even if his struggle was entirely mental. 

Aeryn slid into the pool to take her place at his head.  John had been left completely undisturbed overnight, allowing him to rest as deeply as possible, and he looked healthier than he had at any time since his rescue.  Tahleen was supporting his head, gently stroking his jaw as she waited patiently for everyone to prepare for the upcoming battle.  John opened his eyes just as Aeryn came to a stop alongside the delvian priest.  His gaze continued to wander in random directions, looking at nothing in particular.  Nothing had changed in that respect.   

“Can he see?  Will he be able to see?” Aeryn asked while they waited for the others to get ready. 

“All of our tests show that the nerves are intact and there has been no other permanent damage.  He should be able to see when he is ready to look.”  Tahleen let him float freely, shifting to a position near his shoulder as the rest of the group arrived.  All of them looked apprehensive but were moving with deliberate assurance. 

Meylan joined Aeryn at John’s head and she slid into his mind for what she prayed would be the last time. 

Aeryn!  I’m glad you’re back. 

It was the first time that he was actually waiting for her.  Is anything wrong? 

No. I just missed you.  I was lonely. 

You do not have to be lonely, John.  You could come with me today. 

There was no answering thrust from him, only an impression of reluctance.  John, please come with me, come with me now.  She tried to move closer, not to join with him, but to entangle her desires more deeply into his senses.  He put up a flimsy mental barrier, wary because of her request but not shutting her out with any significant force.   

You made a promise to me that you would be ready some day. 

Yes, yes, yes, someday but not today, not yet, not yet. 

He reverted nervously into the anxious rounds of repetition that he had given up several days earlier, sending the same images again and again.  Aeryn broke into his stream.  Yes.  Today.  Now.  Come with me.  She whispered it, spoke it, sent the commands floating to him through the warm embrace of the water.  He faltered, recovered, became more anxious. 

Not yet, Aeryn, please not yet.  I like it here. This is a good place to be.  I want to stay here longer. 

How much longer? 

I don’t know.  Longer.  A bit longer. 

John, you promised.  You promised me that you would be ready, and I think today is the day that you have to be ready. 

I know I promised, he wailed, trapped in his vow.  But not yet, not yet, not yet.  Please … not that … I don’t want to, not yet.   

Why not? 

NoNoNoNoNo.   

Then his name washed over him in a chorus, the symbol for his name swelling on a four part wave of caring.  They were all there, invading his quiet dreaming place.  His fear and suspicion grew.  He tried to back away.  Rygel and Chiana teamed up to block him, forming a determined restriction to any movement deeper into the tangled labyrinth of his own mind.  They wound themselves around him and pulled him forward, seeking a balance between supporting him and providing an implacable force to carry him into the area of his mind he refused to visit.  Jool and D’Argo joined in, providing a coordinated aura of emotional assurance, doing their best to bolster Crichton’s confidence while forcing him forward.  Together, as a single entity, they began to carry John away from his quiet dreaming place. 

Aeryn tried to guide the entire group straight back the way they had all arrived, along the well-known route toward the pool where the delvian priests were waiting.  Their way was blocked.  More than blocked.  The pathway simply did not exist any more.  She sent out an inquiry, wafting it toward the place where warm water and gentle hands waited for them.  The delvians were there.  They heard, understood, and could respond, but they could not find the route either.   

See?  SEE?  That’s not the way out!  I can’t go that way; they won’t let me.  

It was a wail of despair. 

Who won’t let you? 

THEY won’t.  The Others.  The ones over there. 

Then we will all go together, John.  D’Argo’s reassuring tone took the edge off the mounting panic.  We will go with you, and we will force the others to let you come with us. 

And then they were all telling him the same thing all together.  A single intertwined voice told him that they would not abandon him.  They would stay with him.  They would share whatever horrors he was trying to avoid.  He could trust them.  He had to come with them now. 

No!  I don’t want you to go there but I can’t go there without you … you can’t come with me but you must come with me … you can’t, I can’t, not without you, not with you, not with me, not without you, not …  He wound down and stood in their midst, confused and unable to go in any direction at all. 

You are John Crichton, Aeryn told him.  You must come with me now. 

No. 

The confused mind refused to move, rediscovering resolve, and Aeryn experienced the shared mass of five times her own despair.  She tried one more time, wielding the one tool that no one else possessed, deliberately ignoring the fact that the others could hear and feel the complex symbols she was about to show him.  Getting John to abandon his dreaming place was more important than the brief surrender of her privacy. 

John, I need you back.  You have to come with me because I need you. 

He continued to back away, putting every bit of his limited mental energy into fighting the restriction created by Chiana and Rygel, and the despair was like nothing she had ever felt.  It was worse than when the other one had died. 

JOHN!!  I cannot go on if you do not come with me.  I can’t lose you, not again. 

He stopped, irresolute, frightened out of the capacity to form coherent images.  She could feel the confusion building in his mind, battering any remaining intellect into mindless chaos.  A small cluster of fragments orbiting a single idea -- more a suggestion of a concept rather than a true symbol -- managed to make its way out of the destruction.   

Aeryn.  Aeryn needs John. 

Yes, Aeryn needs you.  Please come with me. 

Aeryn needs me to come. 

She felt him looking forward and back -- the closest John could come to weighing his different options -- and sent the thought one more time, backed up by every micro-dench of dependency she could muster. 

I need you, John. 

He sobbed and struggled again Rygel’s and Chiana’s embrace, trying to avoid the deluge of unformed memories that were breaking free from where he had hidden them.  The images tumbled loose, reminding everyone of the agony he had survived, forcing John to finally contemplate what had happened to him. 

What he feared most and had worked hardest to prevent was happening.  He was starting to remember. 

No.  Aeryn, please.

John, I need you.  Do it for me. 

Aeryn needs …

John … I LOVE you, and I need you.

Aeryn loves John.  John loves Aeryn.

I love you.  You love me. 

The others stood frozen, avoiding any thought that might distract John from what she was showing him, waiting, hoping that she could make him understand.

John loves Aeryn.  Aeryn loves John.  He repeated the images several times, turning them over and over, examining each one as carefully as his limited intellect would allow.

You love me.  I love you, Aeryn sent back, then gave him a new image to consider.  We want to be together.

Together …

Together.  Not like this John.  Not here.  We want to be together for real.  You want to be together with me.  I want to be together with you.  I cannot survive if we are not together.  I love you too much.

Together with Aeryn.  John wants to be together with Aeryn.

Yes.

I MUST DO IT FOR AERYN …  

He leapt into the void separating him from where they stood around his body, and they were all carried with him as he fell into the darkness. 

* * * * *


They had given up on the standard technique of mental dislocation once they had determined his identity.  He had not revealed anything about who he was so he assumed they must have had something about him stashed in their datastores.  One of their leaders, larger and brawnier than the others, had come into the room and he had been released from the projector.  The hallucinations had been as bad as before, but knowing what was happening had allowed him to fight it, clinging tenaciously to the knowledge that every bizarre set of events was nothing more than an induced illusion. 

It had actually been a lot of fun through the first stages.  He was starving now, but he could clearly remember the taste of the pizza and beer.  They had used Aeryn again, and he had taken enormous liberties with that little delusion and gotten something far better than a meal out of it.  He lay on the floor where he had collapsed and smiled at the implanted memory.  He considered suggesting they start over again, deciding microts later that humor was not in the make up of a scarran and that provoking them was a bad idea. 

There was humor in his mind though, laughing at how he had used their torture to enjoy himself, amusement and bemusement at his forays into a forced fantasy world.  There was admiration, and a smirk, and someone humorously disgusted, and outright laughter, and someone who was indulgently pleased that he had found solace in her imagined company.  They made him feel safe, nudged him to continue, clung to him on all sides as the past was relived. 

One of them grabbed him by the back of the vest and he was slung into the hallway, crashing into the wall to slide down to the floor with another heavy impact. 

‘Bruise number four thousand and eighty two,’ he thought fuzzily. 

Their progress back to the cell was a series of such battering tosses.  Grab, sling, smash, thud.  Sounded a bit like a commercial for some piece of kitchen equipment … or maybe alka-seltzer.  Plop, plop, smash, fizz.  The second and longest throw down the hallway left him dazed and limp, which might have explained why he made it through the last bodily heave without getting hurt. 

‘Bad aim,’ was his last thought as his scarran jailer missed the doorway entirely and flung him at short range into the wall beside the entrance. 

Crichton woke in a tangled heap in the corner of the cell, feeling sore and battered.  He spent a few microts assessing his own condition, considering himself lucky since he was basically intact and his thinking was clear despite a mild headache.  He extricated himself from the knot he had formed, and got unsteadily to his feet.  He could see yellowish sunlight streaming through a small window set high in the wall, and tottered to the opposite side of the cell to get an angle to look out.  It was morning; soft early sunlight illuminated a clear sky.  He did some mental calculations and decided that two days might have passed since his capture.  His stomach chose that moment to let out an extended growl, confirming his estimate. 

Crichton walked to the door, which looked like it was made of hydrosteel, and tried to haul himself up to look out of the small grated window.  It was set at the height of a scarran, and he got no more than halfway up before dropping back to the floor, too sore and tired to lift his own bodyweight.  He was about to try the bang-on-the-door-and-sing-the-blues routine, but chose discretion over impudence.  Scarrans were the wrong captors to piss off. 

He did not have to wait long for attention.  Less than half an arn had passed when he heard the heavy clomping of several scarrans approaching his cell.  He moved to the back wall and leaned against it, trying to look nonchalant.  He was scared enough that his mouth was dry and his skin was tightening along the back of his neck as he considered what they might try next.  He was not inclined to underestimate the savagery of this species.

The door crashed open, and four scarrans crowded into the cell.  Within microts, he began to sweat. 

“Nice sauna here, guys.  Can I get a clean towel?”  It popped out of his mouth even as he tried to tell himself he should not say it, and got the expected reaction.  Not a sling … more like a slap from a bucket loader.  Grab, SLAP, smash, thud.  Makes for an interesting change, the thought rattled through his rattling head.  He pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, choosing to stay closer to the hard floor until his senses cleared. 

“Bring him.”  The largest one was doing the talking again.  One guard grabbed the back of his vest while another crushed both of his ankles in one huge hand and they carried him between them to a room he had not visited yet.  He was placed upright before the leader, ringed by five or six others.  The heat was getting oppressive.  Sweat trickled down his chest under his shirt.  The waist of his leather pants slid greasily against his dripping skin as he shifted from one foot to the other, fighting the fear that welled out of his stomach in nausea inducing floods.  Wiping his forehead on the sleeve of his already soaked shirt only succeeded in smearing around the additional sweat. 

“Who are you?” one of them snarled.  “Tell us your name.” 

They had been asking the same question since the first moment they had captured him.  Crichton figured they knew who he was by now.  This was simply their way of testing his resistance to their unrefined hospitality.  Giving them his name meant he would have to make up his mind about answering every subsequent demand.  He decided to draw the line right here.  Once the door to answering their questions was open, he would find it harder and harder to resist.  It was easier to stick with straight-out refusal. 

“Dirty Harry,” he answered, trying to sound confident.  “Or maybe that’s dirty and hairy.  Go ahead, make my day, Wally Gator.”  He braced himself for another slap.  Both his shirt and his vest disappeared instead.  Long claws ripped them to shreds with only a whisper of noise as they were sliced off his body.  “Didn’t like the color?  I thought basic black went with anything.” 

One scaled hand reached toward him.  He managed one step back before the heat washed over him.  The extra distance did not help.  A tiny part of his psyche screamed that this was the scarran mind-probing capability, relying on the victim’s body breaking down under the extreme temperatures.  He shut his eyes, closed his mind to the pain, and rode it out, ignoring the repeated questions.  He was released to fall to his knees, gasping for air.  A stream of sweat ran down his face and splashed off his chin.  He was really feeling very tired. 

Energy flowed into him from an external source, willingly lent by others -- those who surrounded him in another time and place.  They buoyed his spirit, eased his fatigue, urged him to go on despite the daunting distance that remained to be traveled. 

“Very well, then.  You leave us no choice.”  The grating, growling voice did not sound particularly disappointed about the turn of events. 

He was flipped onto his back and a sharp claw slit the laces on his boots.  His pants were quickly shredded and pulled away.  Within microts, he was standing naked before them, sweat streaming down his entire body.  Several more scarrans had joined the crowd, pushing the temperature up even higher.  There were almost a dozen in the room now, and it seemed to be overflowing with scales and sharp teeth.

Several circled around him, peering at his anatomy.  It was beginning to feel like a “Nightmare in the Locker Room” movie and the sick feeling in his stomach was approaching the level of true nausea.  One of them went so far as to run a finger between his legs, examining him in more detail and John forced himself to stand still, struggling to look impassive. 

The inspection ended and he was shoved further into the room.  They lifted him to lie face down on a metal table, pinning his arms and legs as several of them began attaching droves of electrodes to his body.  A majority seemed to be concentrated along his spine, and the nausea increased. 

When the scaled fingers began working their way over his skull he started to shake, fighting to control it so they would not know how afraid he was now.  The application stopped and he was flipped over onto his back.  He tried struggling as they moved him.  Their strength made a farce of his efforts.  They began strapping him to the table and more tangles of wires were separated and attached.  Crichton tried to divorce his screaming anxiety from what was being done to him, redirecting his attention by searching for a place in his mind where he could hide from whatever was coming.

Intrusion on his memories.  Comfort, love, warmth.  He would survive, he would be all right.  Warmth, floating sensation.  Aeryn was there.  They would protect him.  Warrior D’Argo was by his side.  Jool’s intellect said he could live through this, Chiana showed him how a survivor survives, and the resolute dignity of a deposed royal give him the strength to continue.  They told him more.  He didn’t hurt, he didn’t have to be worried, he would survive this.

Aeryn, I don’t want to do this.  Let me go back. 

Move forward.  Move on.  He could come to them now. 

He tried.  He heard the voices and tried to go with them, but the Others had him completely bound to the table now and the sticky attachments had crossed his groin and were crawling up his chest.  He struggled wildly, doing his utmost to break free so he could follow his friends.  He didn’t want to stay here.  It was too awful. 

Take me with you, please, oh God please. 

The answer came back that he could come with them whenever he was ready, but he had to be the one who came to them.  They would stay with him and help him until he was able, but he had to be the one to travel the distance.  They could not do it for him. 

He pulled desperately at the hands that held him down, tried to believe that he could just leave and go with his friends, but he was still on the table and nothing he did made a difference.

AERYN?

I am here.  I will not leave you.


The straps were wide and cut into him too frequently.  Ankles, knees, thighs, hips, chest, his arms in three places, and then the thickly padded one across his throat, pulling up on his chin.  He could not budge a single dench.  They finished securing the last wires onto his cheekbones, and stepped away, admiring their work.  There was jostling as they fought for a vantage point to watch, avidly waiting for the next moment.  Their enthusiastic pleasure frightened him more than anything else that had happened so far.  Logic and bravado dissolved in the face of their delight.  These were scarrans; nothing they enjoyed could be good.  Crichton did not want to admit to himself what was about to happen, but he exhaled as deeply as he could, emptying his lungs of the fuel that drove screams.

Stronger voices were chanting to him, filling him with peace and tranquility.  There were harmonies winding around it and capturing his attention.  Wordless, it calmed him, steadied him for what was inevitable.  It gave him the strength to see that no one had left him.  They were worried and they wanted to leave, but not if it meant abandoning him.  They would not leave without him.  He touched them for a moment, drawing strength from their presence, then tried to pull away so they wouldn’t have to do what he had done.  He tried to buffer their experience, intending to cut them off and protect them even if it meant being alone.  They wouldn’t let him carry through with his plan.  They entwined themselves into him and they waited together for the horrors to begin. 

“Kelvo One.”  Starburst in his chest, but not a bad one, just a baby leviathan ripping out through his sternum.  Mucus ran down his cheek from where the remaining vestiges of air were driven out while he was trying to breathe in through his mouth at the same time.  In and out at the same time didn’t work, but his throat needed air to make the noises.  He panted for a moment and tried to exhale again.  He would not give them the noises unless he was forced into it.  He had nothing left but his stubbornness; he would not give them what they wanted until he had no other choice but to yield to the increasing levels of agony.

“Kelvo Two.”  Body on fire.  Raging explosion in his head.  Cramps in his forearms and legs from straining against the straps, but only a gagging noise because he started with no air. 

“Kelvo Three.”  First cry into the night, coughing and gagging because he tried the simultaneous inhale-exhale thing again.  Strain against the chest strap and hear his bad shoulder pop out and back in.  Minor sting compared to everything else. 

He remained warm and supported, but the hands holding on to him were shaking.  He had to draw back, go away from this place.  They would let him if he had to, but they encouraged him to continue.  The voices called for him to go forward.  Life lay before him, nothing lay behind.  They would understand retreat but they would prefer he continued.  They were ready, they could stand it, he could stand it, it wouldn’t hurt him this time. 

He paused, considering their assurances.  It was the wrong thing to do, because while he pondered his choices, there was …


“Kelvo Four.” 

Throat burning, rictus of muscles pressing against the padding there.  Shoulder popped out completely that time, arm twitching from the injury but no sensation really, anything the body thinks it is feeling is lost in the encompassing fury they’ve stuffed into his nerves.  A scarran leans on the joint and the noise reverberates through the bones in his ear as it goes in.  No other way to tell it ever happened, just a quiet whisper against the symphony of pain they’ve given him.  Every instrument is playing at full volume and they are not even leaning on the switch now. 

Arching against the next hit, impossible position to achieve when there was no room beneath the restraints just microts ago but it seems there is now.  Lungs aching for air.  Suck in overheated oxygen and give vent to the agony again and again.  An interrogatory nearby.  It registers but isn’t truly heard; don’t know what they want him to tell them.  He would tell if he knew what they wanted.  Let it loose, let it flow out with the full contents of his lungs.  Release the energy being stuffed into every cell in his body in a long chorus of dissonant sounds. 

Turn back, go back, I’ll go back now, I want to go back. 

They wouldn’t let him, they pulled at him, called to him, pleaded as he pleaded, begging him to continue forward.

 I don’t want to, I want to go back. 

It was too late …


They hit him again with Kelvo Four and the noise was no longer a release.  It was forced out, ripped out without volition, brutally extracted from his lungs and throat.  Released from the force that was tearing him apart, flopping back, hearing some crippled animal in the corner crying out its suffering, waves of cold water slapping his body, sluicing away the sweat.  Trying to service burning lungs and getting a throat full of water instead, coughing and spitting up water and mucus together. 

Was that six or seven?

“Kelvo Five.”  Not possible to feel every cell in his body separately.  Not possible.  Another bucket of water over his head, choking and fighting for air.  Finally find the right way to breathe, take a huge breath and another deluge hits.  It’s deliberate.  Trying to cough an ocean out of his throat while strapped prone so he can’t breathe.  They hit him again with the power of a nova stuffed into every cell in his body and he’s choking and spitting up water, trying to scream but sucking fluid into his lungs instead.  Hit him one more time, and it all comes out on a wave of sound that he never would have guessed could have been produced by one pair of lungs. 

We’re here, you’re not alone, his friends sang to him. 

I want to leave.  Let me leave. 

Come with us, come forward, follow us. 

Don’t you see?  They won’t let me go yet.  Struggling and pleading but then there’s …


“Kelvo Six.”  Moving deeper inside now, invading his bone marrow, his intestines, running down the insides of his lungs.  Hit him again and again and again.  Scream, scream and let it all run out.  No need to hang on to it, there’ll be more.  Don’t savor it, there’s plenty more where that came from.  Scream.  It’s a good thing. 

Turning back, pulling loose and heading back where he had been, but they were blocking him, urging him forward, surrounding him with their calm determination.  They force him back toward where the nightmares await.

I don’t want to … don’t make me … please.

Come with us, come forward, don’t stop here. 

One strong voice leading the singing encouragement, the single voice that held his life out to him, offered him everything that he needed to continue. 

Aeryn needs me …


“Kelvo Seven.” 

Loud crack and maybe he’s broken his arm, but his hand is flailing loose.  Turns out he has managed to snap through a restraint and everything comes to a stop.  Heat closes in as several work to replace the missing piece.  Can’t have him thrashing around, he might cause himself some pain.  Hearing his own laughter, which is sounding a bit hysterical.  They’re attaching the new part now, getting ready to start again.  Wishing Harvey was still with him to kill him.  Harvey could put an end to it.  There’s an argument starting having to do with a bet.  Start over or continue.  The heat wave billows over him, and even tightly ratcheted down he’s sliding on the slick surface of the table. 

Come forward with us, you’ve done enough now, you don’t have to finish.

Crying and trying, but he’s bound and can’t move.  They won’t allow him to go with his friends.  Tugging at the straps, don’t leave me, don’t leave me here, I don’t want to stay. 

We will NOT leave you, John.  We all leave or we all stay.


“Kelvo Four.”  Compromise for those with wagers.  Not a good compromise for him. 

“Kelvo Five … Six … Seven.”  No escape by breaking loose this time. 

“Kelvo Eight … Nine … Ten.”  They’re paying off bets.  He’s still alive.  A new round of laughter and more betting.  Why is he still conscious?  Direct nerve induction, the words ring in his memory.  Direct and immediate stimulation of the synaptic processes.  Stick a frog, stick a Crichton.  Straps are being released, but not all of them.  Wrists and ankles remain, pulled tighter than ever. 

They’re going to … they’re going to … He couldn’t say it, couldn’t show it. 

COME WITH US NOW, JOHN!!  They were all saying the same thing.  There was a chorus chanting to him to leave this now and go with them. 

He pulled at the straps, pulled frantically at his ankles and wrists, desperate because he knew what was about to happen, and they wouldn’t come free. 

AERYN!!  Make it stop!!!


“Kelvo Ten.”  No fair, they did that one already.  One nano-microt to consider.  There is a choice to make, scream first or turn inside out.  Bullseye, stick the Crichton.  Scream, scream, scream.  No relief this time, they hit him again and again.  Released from the pain because he’s vomiting but they’re ready for that.  Hit that button again and once more.  Laughter and more bets paid off as they strap him down tightly.  They had been measuring how high off the table he would get. 

Refastening the rest of the straps, yanking them tighter than before because the Others know how bad it is about to become.  Back to the business at hand. 

How high does the dial go? 

“Kelvo Eleven …” 

They’re not asking questions anymore.  This is just for fun. 

Oh God no.   

NO!!  No! No! No! No! 

The hands were grasping him more tightly now, telling him it was over, it was all right, he was all right, he would be well again.  The straps were gone even though he knew there was more to follow, his limbs were free of the sweat slick table and their arms were around him everywhere instead, telling him it was over and he could come home now.  He let them take him with them, but it wasn’t over.  He knew better.  He knew there was more waiting for him.

The fury was singing in his body again for the first time in days, every neuron jacked up to an impossible level.  There were no straps to stop him, so he could arch over backward, every muscle pulling him into a folded rictus in the wrong direction, seeking to snap his own spine to stop the pain.  But the star had been stuffed into his skull as well, and only a bullet between the eyes would ever stop it.  There was more coming, much more, but he couldn’t begin to remember it.  It was inconceivable, more than one brain could ever remember and yet he remembered.

The arms holding him were fading and there was only the shattering of his mind, the running before that which could not be handled, the diaspora of his identity.  He was breaking into his component parts, floating out onto the ocean of sensations upon which no sailor would ever choose to embark. 

Confusion, dissolution, dissipation; neurosis, psychosis; mania, shattered cranium.

He was gone.  All that he ever had been was gone, and there was only the next fusion of body and the energy that had destroyed him.

He was jerked out of his reminiscence of insanity by a voice in his mind.


It’s a phantom, John.  It doesn’t exist. 

The hands were soothing him again, and he could feel them now, real and substantial, invading his world. 

It’s over and the pain is gone.  Say it with me. 

It’s over and the pain is gone.  He said it and it was.

It’s over and you can open your eyes and come out now.  Feel us, we’re here and we are waiting for you.  Open your eyes, and follow me out into the water. 

The chorus of voices commanded and coaxed, teased and persuaded, urged and nudged, asked and demanded.  And there were more voices joining in, singing a single complex tune that lacked any notes. 

Follow us, open your eyes, you’re safe, follow us, look at us, come with us, see us, be with us.  Come home. 

Aeryn’s voice ordering him. 

Follow me, John.  Come with me. 

He did. 

Open your eyes. 

He did. 

John Crichton looked up as he was told to, and saw the distorted images of his friends hovering above the surface of the water.  He drew in another liquid breath, not fighting it although it seemed new, and looked left and right, trying to make sense of his surroundings.  Blue skin alternated with the variety of figures around him, each pair of hands supporting him and holding him securely:  D’Argo’s tattooed stomach, Chiana’s lean gray ribs and taut belly, Jool’s familiar midriff and Rygel floating as if he had been born there. 

He ached all over, every nerve in his body singing in the aftermath of remembered agony; but the pain was measurable and he could handle it.  His head was empty of the reassurances; the silence that existed in that space was more agonizing than the physical sensations.  He tried to recall who had been there, who had been talking to him, who had ordered him to obey.  He remembered.  He remembered who it was just as he noticed the steady massaging at the base of his skull.  He let his head fall back and looked up at Aeryn.  His view of her was distorted by ripples from tears falling into the water. 

‘Don’t cry, Aeryn Sun.  I’m here, don’t cry.’  He couldn’t use the contents of his lungs to make the noises he knew she would understand.  Somehow she heard him anyway. 

‘I’ll cry if I want to, John Crichton.  You shut up and relax.’  The single tune reentered the void inside his head, a clear unblemished note that filled the hollow spaces to overflowing.  His head ached unmercifully, but that one tone made it possible to ignore the light and heat of the discomfort.

‘Did I do it?’  He was worried, she had been insistent and he had refused several times to do what he was told.  There might have been an argument.

‘Do what?’ 

They had not let go; the hands were still there to protect him.  His mind existed in solitude now, but they were all maintaining contact, letting him know he was not alone.  Why was Aeryn the only one who would talk to him though? 

‘Did I keep my promise?  Did I do what I was supposed to?’  His body was still singing a high pitched aria of discomfort, muscles twitching a discordant percussion to go along with it.  Focusing on Aeryn and his friends allowed him to shunt the rising sensation of sickness to a place where it could be ignored. 

Her answer did not come right away.  Aeryn rubbed his skull harder, moving her fingers to work behind his ears.  ‘Yes, you did.  You did everything you promised and more.’  She rubbed the tired muscles along his jaw, the ones that had bunched into tight knots and now ached as though they would never stop.  ‘You need to relax now.  Try to relax.’   

Her fingers returned to the back of his neck, and worked into the tendons at the base of his skull.  When she hit a particular spot she seemed to be seeking, he did not really have a choice about relaxing.  He sighed, enjoying the warm rush in his chest.  He had forgotten to miss how good it felt when she rubbed that spot.  The other hands were leaving him slowly, until he was floating, eyes half closed, in Aeryn’s solitary grasp. 

‘Don’t leave?’ he tried calling to them.  ‘Don’t go yet?’ 

After a delay of four microts they returned, but he still could not hear them.  There were the careful touches, completely unlike those he had been feeling for so long, but more reassuring.  They held and caressed him until Aeryn told him they had to leave so everyone could get some rest.  He rocked in the currents from their departure. 

‘You too?  You need some rest too, don’t you?’ he asked her.  ‘You sound tired.’ 

‘I will leave to get some rest so long as you promise me that you will get some sleep, too.  But you have to be ready to talk to me here, in this pool, in the morning.  Agreed?’ 

He nodded. 

‘Don’t just nod.  Tell me that you will meet me right here in the morning.”

‘I promise.’ 

“Not in the quiet dreaming place,” Aeryn said, rubbing both sides of his jaw with her thumbs.  “I want you here, in the water.  No going back.  Promise me.’

‘I promise,’ he agreed again, and then considered a portion of what she had just said.  Thinking was hard work, requiring energy that he did not seem to have.  ‘Aeryn?  How can I hear you when I’m underwater?’

‘Special equipment.  We’re with a group of delvians, and they are taking good care of all of us.  Now go to sleep, John Crichton.  I will be here, waiting for you when you wake up.’

* * * * *

Aeryn waited until she felt his mind slide into an exhausted rhythm, easy waves of sleep carrying him up and down through the natural, healthy cycle.  She broke away then, both mentally and physically, staggering back into D’Argo’s strong, waiting hands.  He guided her to the edge of the pool and, without asking, lifted her to sit on the edge.  Someone dropped a warm towel around her shoulders and she sat for long moments feeling tired and depressed.  She had expected that this moment would leave her feeling elated, but every trembling quiver of her exhausted body took her one step closer to weeping instead. 

She roused herself to look at who was around her.  Chiana and D’Argo were sitting shoulder to shoulder to her left.  Jool was on the far side of D’Argo, also making physical contact.  Aeryn looked for Rygel and found the aquatic hynerian floating quietly by her right foot.  Everyone’s attention was focused on the figure stretched out near the bottom of the pool. 

For the first time since they had brought him to the New Moon of Delvia, John had not curled into a ball.  He was floating stretched out almost straight, arms tucked along his ribs with his hands curled against his chest.  Some remaining bit of inertia or a stray current had started him rolling, slowly revolving from face up to face down and around again.  His hair stood out straight from his scalp all over, a puffy sort of look except that it was waving slightly as he drifted. 

“Yotz,” said Rygel with very little expression in his voice. 

“Frell me,” Chiana added in an equally flat tone. 

“That was …”  Jool paused and everyone turned to look at her, waiting for her pronouncement.  She shook her head, for once at a loss for words.

“Why isn’t he dead?” Chiana asked.  “He should be dead.”  No one mistook what she was trying to say.  They all wondered how he had survived.   

“He’s back,” Aeryn said, forcing the words past the lump in her throat.  “He did it.”  She found a smile forming somewhere inside her, easing outward until it tugged at the corners of her mouth.  “We did it.  We all did it.  He came back.” 

“Long way to go,” D’Argo cautioned her, but his features were brightening as well. 

“Crichton can be a complete pain when he isn’t feeling well,” Chiana agreed.  “He’ll be a miserable son of a frellnik until he’s fully recovered.”  She laughed and nudged D’Argo with her shoulder.  And suddenly they were all laughing, banging gently against each other as they sat shoulder to shoulder on the warm tiles, watching the sleeping Crichton coast slowly from one side of the pool to the other. 

Aeryn thought about the long way to go that D’Argo had mentioned.  John’s injuries were severe; his body was the prison now, instead of his mind.  The delvians had already warned them that he had suffered extensive damage to the motor neurons that controlled most voluntarily movement, as well as those responsible for some of his autonomic reactions.  He would require endless arns of their healing sessions to restore those portions of his nervous system.  But she alone had felt John’s mind in the last few microts after the others had broken their contact.  She knew the firm feel to his thoughts, and the returning steadiness of his emotions.  She had also felt the huge holes in his memory, the blank spots where information might have been lost forever.  The intrinsic nature of him was there, however, and she was certain that the John Crichton she knew was back. 


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

99
Crashfic / Chapter 6
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 09, 2016, 08:32:14 PM »
Chapter 6

Aeryn claimed the next turn in the pool, convinced that John would need her reassurance by that time.  She was also intent on finding out who the ‘Others’ were that had John both worried and secretive.  The assembled crew had discussed it several times and had come to the conclusion that the symbol was what John was using to cover up his terror of the scarrans.  The thought of him continuing his battle inside his mind day and night had driven her from the bed provided by their hosts, and she spent the arns sitting at the side of the pool watching him drift. 

The delvians continued to make cautious forays into his mind almost constantly, only withdrawing in order to let him sleep.  Their gentle probing sought signs of physical and neural damage as part of the slow, tedious repairs to his physiology.  Aeryn had not been able to sleep much of the previous night either, and had spent the arns sitting silently beside the pool, watching as two of the priests took turns easing into the fringes of his shattered mind.  She had heard him crying several times, an echo of his distress ringing in her mind without the customary filter of passing through her ears.  She’d had to exert the most rigid self-control possible in order to prevent herself from sliding into the water and going to soothe him.

‘Aeryn!’ he had cried out at last, scared by the strangers who insisted on testing the walls that surrounded the quiet dreaming place. 

‘It’s all right, John,’ she had sent back, not even sure she could reach him without the help of a Pa’u or the proximity of touching him.  ‘They’re the Nice People.  Don’t be afraid.’  For over an arn, she had stared at the motionless, submerged body, concentrating on those three small sentences, and the mental distress had slowly eased to the point that it was no longer detectable.     

The slow exploration of his body and the constant surveying of his neural pathways had continued for arns.  By morning, both the healers and the gradually healing were exhausted.  Meylan had warned them that each improvement would set off a cascade of signals illuminating other injuries.  It would be a long and laborious process, and John would be subjected to new and random sensations as they restored his systems one by one.  He had been allowed to sleep most of the morning, but it had been a fitful and restless sleep broken by twitches, spasms, and flurries of what looked like slaps and punches.  D’Argo’s attempt at a Meeting in the afternoon had located a bewildered, exhausted mentality that had done little more than huddle against his presence, seeking comfort and reassurances.   

This latest session had yielded an extended case of the hiccups, painful enough when each spasm tried to suck in something thicker than air.  They had let it go on for three arns, hoping it would resolve itself, but had finally adjusted the oxygen mix being provided in the watery fluid until the tiny convulsions stopped.  Even after six arns of undisturbed sleep, John looked tired, and they let him float without hindrance for an extra two arns before they began again.  Her guide this morning was Daaren, and they moved in without difficulty.  It was when she got inside that she began to experience a problem.  She could not find him.

John, where are you? 

It was peaceful and the light was dim.  There was no answer, and she tried to decide if she would be able to tell the difference between his normal drifting mental state and sleep.  There wasn’t anything to give her direction, so she continued moving in what she hoped was a straight line, waiting to see if anything changed.  As far as she could tell, John was not there.  She sent out an inquiry and received a quiet delvian assurance that John was present, but they could not provide any guidance as to where to look for him.  Aeryn put mental hands on her hips, and looked around in disgust. 

John, where are you?  She demanded an answer this time, and received only silence for her efforts.  Pulling away from the unobtrusive presence leading her into John’s mind, Aeryn reached out on her own, questing, finding, and she was abruptly inside him, entering without volition or effort. 

Sorrow and loneliness.  He/she looked down at Aeryn’s still body, pale face framed by the loose dark hair.  He/she had found a memory and was trapped within it.  No, she/he commanded, you/I don’t have to remember this, we can go somewhere else.  Where else would we go, they asked themselves.  This is our soul lying before us, dead by our actions.  It wasn’t us, she/he screamed, trying to break through.  This wasn’t us; it was Scorpius.

She/he took him/her to the cockpit of the module, to remind them of what it had felt like to sit trapped and helpless within their own body, unable to stop, unable to speak, unable to warn her what the twisted mentality intended to do.  She/he saw for the first time that Scorpius hadn’t been trying to kill Aeryn, he had been trying to destroy the remaining resistance that was John, to take away the thing that would allow him/her to continue to resist.  They relived the moment, the impact, then the release from the neurochip’s control so he/she could watch helplessly without the buffering of someone else’s intellect, maximizing the guilt and loss. 


They forced them away from the memory.  We are here now; we are alive and whole and we love us. 

Yes, yes, yes, yes, we are here and we love us. 

Now we must do something for us instead, we must come back, we must fight and return the same way that we returned with Zhaan’s help. 

Now?  Do we fight to return now?  We are confused and we hurt.  We want to stay here longer where it is safe.  Do we have to return now?  So soon?  They were filled with foreboding and fear, wanting to fulfill their expectations and love, but holding back because of the unknown visions that lurked along the edges of their memory. 

They tried to ease toward that corner, taking them toward the shadowy figures that waited there so they could see what it was that scared them. 

John broke away, startling her with his vehemence.  Don’t be afraid!  Aeryn tried to catch him.  It was too late; he was gone.  She tried to move closer to the shadows, but without his help to control the images the figures remained indistinct.  She tried reaching out toward John with the blanket of calm reassurance, hoping that if she could simply make contact with him, it would be enough to bring the shadowy, poorly formed images into focus.  But John had put up a block and she could not get near him.  She could feel him next to her, rock hard and rigid with tension, so she gave up and moved further away from the dark corner where he had hidden the ‘Others’.   

She did not withdraw.  She remained next to the quivering figure until he began to relax, then she tried to rebuild the agreement she was afraid she had just shattered in her pursuit of the answer about the ‘Others’. 

Do you still trust me? 

Of course!  You are Aeryn. 

Will you still agree to fight and return?  For me? 

For you?  Yes, for you … but … do I have to fight against Them?  …  Please say ‘no’. 

The last thought was almost hidden, a tiny image that she suspected he had not intended to project.  Aeryn paused, trying to decide what was correct. 

Not yet, please not yet.  I’ll come later.  Later is good.  Later is better.

You do not have to come until you’re ready, but you have to agree to be ready some day.  The answer when it came was so fragile and tenuous she almost missed it.  The symbol eased away from him the way a single thread-thin fragment of a feather floats on still air. 

I promise. 

That’s good enough for me, John. 

She moved into him again, a firmer melding that stopped short of Unity, and let him know what her heart was feeling just then.  There was an image she did not understand, something formless and indistinct.  She allowed herself another self-indulgent release of love and concern, and the response came again.  It was a quiet whimper of relief, the first mental break in the wall he had put up around the trauma that had driven him in here. 

Come here, she summoned him. 

He moved closer, the ragged fragments of his damaged consciousness rasping against the smooth torrent of her own thoughts to remind her of the extensive injuries that remained to be healed.  The progress they had made so far was a small portion of what would be required to restore John Crichton to what he had once been. 

Can I? he asked, creeping closer. Is it okay? 

Yes, she sent back, finding a small amount of amusement in his trepidation. 

John sighed, curled into a mental ball, and tucked himself in against her, sinking into her protectiveness until there was nothing of him left outside her enveloping calm. 

Aeryn? 

What?

Will you … Please? … Will you make sure they don’t hurt me again? 

It was the first time he had sent a thought that came close to mentioning what had been done to him.  Aeryn tightened her grip on him, holding him so close that the boundary layer began to thin and merge, the first disorienting mélange of Unity combining their thoughts.  In that pre-joining state, he knew beyond any doubt that she would protect him with her life.  The relief unleashed more of the pent-up trauma. 

They floated in that manner for what felt like arns; spending the time in much the same way that D’Argo had spent his session reassuring John.  There was not enough knowledge and reasoning power available for him to be strong on his own.  Too much of his quiet dreaming place consisted of unconnected fragments, none of which would have fit together into a larger piece even if he possessed the ability for rational thought.  John burrowed in deeper, allowing Aeryn to provide the structure that brought moments of sanity to his confused universe.  She could feel when her presence helped him retain some semblance of order.  It was not a return of sanity so much as an easing of the perpetual chaos, allowing him a few moments of relative peace.  In those moments, when the mental whirlwind left him alone for a few microts, he could almost reassemble what it felt like to be able to think. 

You have to go, he knew, feeling the summons as soon as she did. 

Yes.  Would you like to come with me? 

NO!  NoNoNoNoNo.  No. 

Panic returned, transforming what little remained of him into nothing more than an attempt not to remember certain things.  The peace was shattered, thoughts fragmented into millions of parts, and he reverted into an unassembled puzzle of runaway emotions.  Aeryn cursed at herself for having frightened him into a senseless frenzy for the second time in a single session. 

Do not be afraid.  You do not have to come.  You can stay here.  His response was so muddled, she had to ask him to repeat the images a second time in order to make some sense of the flow. 

Good, good.  Stay.  I’ll stay.  Wait for Aeryn.  I’ll wait for Aeryn here. 

He scuttled away from her and huddled a short distance to one side, quivering in fear.  Aeryn eased toward him, crossing the gap with infinite care.  He let her touch him, submitting to her assurances until he finally relaxed, eventually trusting her when she said that she would not force him to leave the quiet dreaming place. 

Are you tired? 

yes  

Can you rest? 

yes 

Someone else will be here to visit later, he’ll keep you company so you’re not as lonely.

all right  

Rest, John. 

yes  

* * * * *


D’Argo stripped off his tunic as he entered the pool chamber and dropped into the water without bothering to remove the quilted pants.  Crichton’s gradual recovery had given him more strength and his desperation was overwhelming the group trying to restrain him.  His struggles were no more focused than before, muscles reacting randomly to the signals from his brain, but that seemed to make it more difficult for them to maintain a grip instead of less. 

He had been summoned in the middle of the night by a wide-eyed acolyte who hurriedly asked him to come help the team in the pool because Crichton was in an emotional frenzy.  He looked at the foaming water around the thrashing human and shook his head.  Frenzy had been an extreme understatement.  It did not look as though there was going to be a pause or a predictable break in the movements, so he waded into the fray without hesitating and slid his hands into place, helping the exhausted priest hold John’s head below water.  Together, they slid into Crichton’s mind with an ease born of too much practice.   

Crichton was yelling incoherently.  Symbols that resembled profanity mixed with disjointed syllables that flowed from his mind in a chaotic torrent. 

JOHN!  I am here.  I have come to help.   

D’Argo, D’Argo! 

The mentality latched on to him in desperation.  The warrior did his best to project a comforting embrace.  Crichton clung to him, frantic beyond the ability to produce recognizable symbols, and jabbered out a nearly senseless rendition of what had frightened him.  One symbol made its way through the swirling images with suffering any distortion:  desperation.  Using every dench of his limited intellectual resources, John was doing everything possible to keep a certain collection of images from taking over his existence … and it was not enough.  Desperation barely began to describe how fiercely he was fighting to prevent the memories from breaking free. 

They’re here.  Aeryn wanted me to … She asked me to promise … I tried, I looked … they were there all along … help me.  Keep them away from me. 

The level of distress flooding from John was heartbreaking.  D’Argo turned his back on the frantic thoughts and tried to find the source of his anxiety.  Where are they?  You have to at least show me which direction they came from if I’m to help you. 

Over there, over there.  Oh God, they’re still there. 

He tore loose from D’Argo and scrabbled away from the dark corner of his memory he had indicated, mindless in his complete panic. 

D’Argo positioned himself between John and the unseen threat, trying to emit an air of confidence and calm but finding his capacity for this mental projection severely taxed.  He continued trying to soothe the frightened mind at the same time that he probed for the remembered menace. 

I will not let them touch you.  You don’t have to show me, just tell me who they are. 

The Others, the other ones.  THEM.  The ones who come whenever I’m alone.  They hide whenever you’re here.  They come out when everyone else leaves.  Only when I’m alone, when I’m alone. 

The level of panic was not diminishing.  D’Argo was baffled, at a loss as to how to proceed.  He remembered Aeryn’s reminder that the delvians were always there with experience and support.  He wafted the query toward his minder. 

He was told to do whatever came naturally. 

Stay here, John.  I am going to kill them. 

NO!!  They’re too strong, D’Argo.  I don’t want to lose you. 

D’Argo bellowed in rage and defiance and charged into the shadows.  There was a brief impression of several huge lurking forms, then the darkness lifted and they were gone.  He returned to stand next to the curled, whimpering remains of his friend. 

They’re gone now.  They’ve left and they know we will protect you. 

For good?  Are they gone for good? 

I do not know.  John, we are always here if you need our help.  You do not have to fight them alone.  I will come whenever you need me. 

Don’t leave me here, take me with you.  They scare me. 

Despite the plaintive tone, John was not stirring from his huddled position.  Come with me then, you have to get up to come with me.  D’Argo felt himself being pulled away.  Everyone was tired; they could not sustain this much longer. 

Now, John, you have to come now because I have to leave. 

No, not now, not yet.  I don’t think I can.  I can’t  come yet. 

Yes, you can. 

There’s something I’m supposed to do first.  Don’t leave me! 

D’Argo tried to touch the lonely figure one more time, only to be drawn out of the quiet before he could make the connection.   

* * * * *


Aeryn looked at the tightly curled body below her.  Somehow the delvians had known that she was far more exhausted than she ever would have admitted even to herself, and it had been D’Argo who had been summoned during the night.  He had done a better job of banishing the phantoms from John’s realm than she might have done, but despite D’Argo’s success the nightmare had set John back almost to the beginning.  She rolled over on her back and floated, letting the heat and weightless suspension relax tired muscles. 

After four attempts at a Meeting, she had not been able to locate anything more substantial than a tightly compacted ball of anxiety.  John would respond to every attempt at communication with the symbol that stood for her name, repeating ‘Aeryn’ no matter what her question or comment.   None of the others could get even that much out of him.  Meylan had tried a multiple joining along with Lorana and Tahleen, hoping that their combined strength would allow them to reach John in the depths of his catatonia.  They’d had no more success than she had, and in the end had withdrawn hastily when they sensed that their presence was about to drive him even farther into his own mind. 

His emotional state was being reflected by his physical position.  Despite a constant effort by the delvians, he continued to wrap himself into the tightest ball possible. 

There was a double splash nearby.  Aeryn opened her eyes to find Chiana and Jool in the water with her.  D’Argo and Rygel were hovering on the tiles above them, waiting outside the pool.   

“Let’s try one more time, Aeryn,” Jool said.  “Not a Meeting.  Let’s just see if we can get him to relax a bit.”  The red ringlets floated in a mass as the interon ducked under the surface and pulled on John’s arm, lifting him from where his body was resting on the bottom.  Once they had him up and made a little room, D’Argo and Rygel slid in and they started to copy the slow easy massage they had seen the delvians use so often.

They had him again; he had been grabbed and lifted.  He couldn’t look, couldn’t face it, wouldn’t look at the Others he knew were surrounding him.  He cried in despair and waited for them to begin again, waited for the clank of the buckles against the table as they prepared it for his body and lifted him into place.  He tried to scream for help, but there was only the silence of this place, and he was alone.   

The harsh grabbing never started.  There wasn’t the feel of cold metal against his back. 

Something different happened, something he didn’t expect. 

A slow stroking by an assortment of hands began; no two quite alike.  One pair seemed familiar and never left his neck or shoulders.  Strong, unhurtful fingers worked into the muscles at the base of his neck, rocking his skull where it connected to his spine.  He took a longer breath and couldn’t shift his attention away from that wonderful sensation.  Those hands moved on to work at his shoulders and he was aware of the other touches again, working at the tense muscles in his arms, and where his legs had begun to cramp.  They didn’t talk to him or coax him to do anything; he was left in his quiet dreaming place with nothing to focus on except the heavy strokes and the gentle pulls to straighten him out.
 

“He’s easing a bit,” D’Argo whispered.  He caught himself and tried to talk normally.  John could not hear them.  “Should we turn him on his back?” 

Aeryn started to agree, then changed her mind when something occurred to her.  “No, that might be too much like being strapped to that table, even though he’s floating.  Let’s try face down instead.” 

He was still being pulled at, rubbed and manipulated.  Nothing terrible was happening.  They started to roll him over and he took a deep breath to fight.  But they weren’t putting him back THERE after all; they had him face down and were starting on his back.  It felt wonderful and he was aware that his body was relaxing.  He remembered the warm water and the touch of the bubbles that no longer stung.  A variety of fingers quested for tight muscles, working down his spine and across his shoulders.  One set reached under him and stroked his stomach, easing the cramps that had started there.  It felt so good, so safe; all he could do was cry.

“That’s better, that’s good, John.”  Aeryn spoke to him even though she knew he could not hear.  “We’re going to turn you over now, do not get upset.  It’s just us and it won’t hurt when we do this.”  She nodded to the others, and they slowly flipped him over.  He stayed relaxed and they started down his body again.  She worked her fingers in at the base of his skull, supporting his head in her hands as she worked the muscles he used to like having massaged so much.  John opened his eyes.  The blind gaze staring in Aeryn’s direction without recognition and then, for a brief instant, he seemed to smile.   

* * * * *


Aeryn stood beside Meylan while he examined John, impatiently waiting for him to guide her into another Meeting.  No one had been able to locate anything substantial since D’Argo had banished the Others two days earlier and it was beginning to worry her.  It had been the promise she had extracted from John that had lured him into exploring the portions of his memory that he had deliberately hidden, which in turn had led to the panic attack.  Any lost progress was her responsibility. 

Meylan straightened up, let go of Crichton, and shook his head.  “I was not able to get any further into his mind than usual.  Still, I am not reassured by what I sensed within.  I would like you to wait before trying another Meeting.”   

“It’s been two full planetary days,” she said.  “If he’s upset, shouldn’t we try to help him?” 

“I do not sense anxiety,” Meylan said pensively.  “You know he has not allowed any of us into his mind unless we are accompanying one of you.  That is making this very difficult.  I am not receiving any sense of specific emotions.  What is occurring is something far more … I believe the best word might be ‘random’.  I fear for your well-being if you venture into another Meeting at this time.” 

Aeryn thought about his caution for almost fifty microts, her eyes fixed on Crichton’s expressionless features the entire time.  She was worried about him, more worried than she had been since the first day they had brought him here.  D’Argo had banished the demons, so why was he unreachable, she kept asking herself.  Why wouldn’t John answer any of them?

“We have to know what’s going on in there,” she said.  “I’m asking you to take me into his mind.  John would never hurt me.”  She placed her hands firmly on John’s skull and waited to see what Meylan would do. 

“He would never hurt you deliberately, Aeryn Sun.  You must consider that not all of the injuries to John Crichton’s mind are psychic in nature.  There has been a great deal of damage to the physical.  Whatever is happening may be something that he is powerless to control.”  The priest stroked the dark stubbled jaw, his thumb working at a taut muscle near John’s right ear. 

“He won’t hurt me,” she repeated, waiting for Meylan’s final decision.  Warm fingers, damp from the not-quite-water of the pool, grasped her hands, and the familiar mental shove carried her forward. 

… five, six, pick up Tom Mix?  Not really right, not really bright.  Sun is bright, where is my Sun?  Change the plugs, adjust the timing, timing is everything.  Wish he had the time to … all the time in the world really, which world?  Sykar, sky car, sly car, side bar, here come da’ Judge.  Lawsy me, what dat be?  I tawt I saw a puddy cat.  --  JOHN!  Help me I can’t exist in this!  --  Who dat?  Boogats.  Who’s on first, what’s on second.  Nyuck, yuck, yuck.  Freshman dorm assignments, wound up in the smallest room on campus, no chance of sneaking Alex in there without his roommate knowing about it.  Alexandra the great … Aeryn was great, greatest thing that ever happened to him.  --  Fragmenting personality, force of the destruction of his mind pulling her apart, complete dissolution ripping every construct into its most basic pieces and scattering them into the melee.  --  Where had he put Aeryn?  She was hidden safely from the Others, but where where where?  Werewolves shouldn’t stay out after eleven, seven eleven, kill for a cherry Slurpee right now.  If he couldn’t then he wouldn’t, come again?  --  John!  --  Who’s there?  --  JOHN!!  You have got to help me.  --  AERYN?  Hang on to it, grab on to it, it’s an anchor, cling like Saran Wrap, tooth and nail, she says she needs my help.  Aeryn?  

Help me.  I can’t stay, but I can’t leave if you don’t help me.  --  Aeryn?  Error, do not bend, fold … concentrate on Aeryn, Aeryn, Aeryn.  What do I do?  --  Show me where it is, show me where I go to leave, I can’t find it in the middle of all this.  --  Order, organize, lobotomize … NO!  Order, ranks and files, clean your room, John Crich … NO!  Order, order, order … THERE!  THERE, THERE, THERE, THERE.  Goodbye, Aeryn.  I love you. 

She was shoved violently in one particular direction. 

* * * * *

She was lying on the heated tiles, wrapped in several towels with her head propped in Chiana’s lap.  Every cell in her body seemed to throbbing at a different tempo, with the exception of her head, which was merely exploding with the power of an entire star. 

“Let me sit up,” she croaked.  “I need something to drink.” 

“Are you in pain, Aeryn Sun?” 

Daaren was kneeling beside her.  Aeryn stared at him, confused by his presence.  He hadn’t been in the pool room several microts earlier. 

“I was summoned to treat you, Aeryn Sun,” he explained, and handed her a flask of water. 

She reached for the container and missed, tried and missed a second time.  “My head is killing me,” she admitted.  Daaren wrapped her fingers around the flask, hovering until it was clear that she had a grip on it.  She sipped slowly, flinching when his fingers touched her temples.  The pain slid away, leaving her feeling ill and sweating all over. 

“What happened, Aeryn?  What went wrong?”  Chiana was supporting her, the pale hands shaking against her shoulders even as they held her upright. 

“He’s gone,” she told them in a strained whisper. 

“What do you mean gone?” Chiana demanded.  “He’s going to be fine.  He knows who we are and he’s been getting better.  Gone how?”   

“I mean he’s --”  Fighting back the tears required that she stop for a microt, swallowing with difficulty before trying again.  “John is gone.  There’s nothing organized inside there.  That’s --”  She lost the battle.  Tears began flooding down her cheeks. 

“Do something!” Chiana said, aiming her anxiety directly at Meylan.  “Fix what went wrong.  Find what changed and repair it.” 

“John Crichton has stopped fighting,” the sixteenth level Pa’u confessed.  “He has given in to the disorder resulting from the torture.  There is nothing we can do to bring him back.” 

“He’s gone,” Aeryn repeated on a sob.  She buried her head in her folded arms and gave in to the grief.   

* * * * *

The pool chamber was silent except for the quiet lap of water against the edge and the occasional slurp and suck of the circulation system.  Rygel, Jool and D’Argo had been summoned and had been told of Aeryn’s devastating discovery, leaving all five shipmates brooding in a depressed silence while their hosts quietly discussed their remaining options. 

Aeryn watched the small huddle of delvians near the doorway without interest, merely noting the lack of energy and the slump of their shoulders.  Their discussion was pointless.  She had been the one to experience the complete lack of direction in John’s mind, the total chaos that had fallen over him.  He had been so lucid, so aware of her the last time she’d had a Meeting with him.  His emotional control had been non-existent, but every other portion of his psyche had felt exactly like the John Crichton she had come to love.  No one had been able to adequately explain how he had regressed from that frightened but directed mentality to this gleeful destruction of coherent thought. 

“We might as well change our clothes,” she said.  “We’ll be able to leave soon.”  The tears were there again, unwanted and unbidden. 

D’Argo started to ask a question.  “What about --?”  He knelt by the side of the pool, watching John coast toward the wall. 

“What?” Chiana asked him. 

“Who’s going to --”  D’Argo gestured toward John’s body, unable to finish his query.  “I won’t leave him here like this.” 

Aeryn had already asked the same question of the delvians.  She passed on the answer she had received.  “Meylan said they would take care of it.  It will be painless.” 

She took a deep breath, searching for and finding the rigid self-control that had kept her going after the other Crichton had died.  She knew that she would not be able to maintain the façade for as long this time.  She was too close to the brink, too close to complete dissolution to be able to hang on for much longer than a few arns after they finished the necessary task. 

“He’s in there,” Chiana objected.  “We all felt him.  We talked to him.  He knows who I am.  We can’t just … kill him.” 

“He doesn’t know anything at all anymore, Chiana.”  Aeryn joined D’Argo by the side of the pool, kneeling down to get one last look at the unique human who had changed their lives.  “John Crichton died two days ago.  He’s gone and he is not coming back.”  Beside her, D’Argo was silently crying, tears running steadily down into his braids. 

“No,” Chiana wailed.  “Look at him.  He’s right there!” 

“I am looking at him!” Aeryn snapped angrily at her.  “Don’t you think I want him to recover?  You don’t know what it was like in there.  It was like … like being insane.  There wasn’t a coherent thought left.  I couldn’t even find my way out of his mind.  The medtech was right.  We should have let them put a pulse blast through his head and gotten on with our lives.  We could have saved ourselves all this time and anguish.” 

“Aeryn,” D’Argo admonished. 

She shook her head, trying to take back the harsh words.  “No, that’s not true.  It was worth the effort.  We tried.  John tried, but he was too badly damaged.  He would have come back to us if he could.  The injuries were too severe.” 

She pushed herself to her feet, the normally effortless action a strenuous process.  She was exhausted from her brief mental battle to break loose from John’s shattered reality.  Each and every movement had to fight through stiffening muscles and her deepening grief.  She stared at John’s unblemished body floating near the bottom of the pool.  He even seemed relaxed and happy now, all sign of the inner destruction hidden from sight. 

D’Argo leaned down to dip his fingers into the water, then touched them to his lips and bid his friend farewell.  “Goodbye, John Crichton.  I will miss you for the rest of my life.”  He rose to his feet and gathered Chiana under his arm.  “We’ll go get changed.”  He put his hand on Aeryn’s shoulder for a microt, stared into her eyes with sympathy, then turned and headed for the door, leaving her alone to say her goodbyes. 

“Why did you stop fighting, John?” she asked the submerged figure.  Grief turned to rage in an instant, the repressed emotions finding a single outlet.  “You promised!” she yelled at the senseless man floating beneath the water.  “You promised me you would fight and you would come back!  Frell you, John Crichton!  You promised.”  Tears flowed, making it impossible to yell again.  “You promised you would fight.” 

And then D’Argo was beside her, holding her, hugging with all of his might as the anger cooled, leaving only pain and misery.  “He promised me he would come back, D’Argo.  He promised.  John promised me he would make the effort to come back, D’Argo.  He promised.” 

“I know, Aeryn,” D’Argo whispered, his voice rasping with his own tightly controlled emotions.  “He would have kept his promise if it were possible.  You know that.” 

“I don’t understand something,” Chiana interjected into the ensuing silence.  Dark tears continued to streak down the gray skin. 

“What?” Aeryn asked without lifting her face from D’Argo’s chest. 

“You said you couldn’t survive in his mind, that it was too confusing.  How did you find your way out?” 

Aeryn froze.  Even her breathing stopped for the length of time it took to replay that chaotic journey in her mind, separating out her thoughts from the whirlwind of images she had picked up from John.  Then she lifted her head and looked toward the group of delvians with something resembling hope in her eyes. 

Drive your car, go to Iscandar, it’s last call at the bar … they never had last call at Sykar.  White nights, nights in white satin, Aeryn in satin and lace.  Where did Aeryn go?  There’s that anchor again.  Woohooo, sail on by.  Goobye.  She said, nope, he said goodbye.  Goodbye to Aeryn.  Aeryn.  He’d lobbed her right on out of here, yep, centerfielder’s arm.  What a long bomb, hail mary pass the gravy and grits you teeth, grin and bear it.  Barely heard it.  Herd the stock, wind the clock … Aeryn had to leave.  Aeryn couldn’t stay.  Hang on, hang on, hang on.  There’s that anchor again, snag that bad boy with a boat hook, Captain Hook, tick tock … NO!!  Aeryn.  Anchor.  Take up the stillness, silliness … be still.  The water is warm, the river is wide I cannot get o’er … the water is warm, it’s all around.  Breathe.  She’s gone.  She had to leave.  She’s gone.  Forever?  Because of him?  He said goodbye, she left, hang on to Aeryn, grasp it hard, order everything else around that one fact, that one need.  Take a deep breath and hang on to it. 

Aeryn left because …

Aeryn …

Aeryn …

AERYN!


The water in the pool slapped hard against the tiled sides, vigorous wavelets slopping over the edge as John suddenly spun underwater, turning over and grabbing at something.  He opened his eyes for the first time since D’Argo’s rescue two nights earlier, suddenly appearing anxious.  It was more motion than they had seen at any time since he had been rescued, and the first appearance of anything resembling emotion.  He grabbed at the water, both fists clutching spastically, fingers clamping into uncoordinated balls, and gulped at the water as though he were panting. 

‘AERYYYYYYYNNNNN!’

She jumped as the mental yell blossomed inside her head.  “Did you hear that?” she asked, pulling out of D’Argo’s embrace.  She looked toward the doorway.  Meylan was walking very slowly around the edge of the pool, moving in their direction looking both astonished and perplexed.  “Did you hear that?” she asked him in a rush. 

“He should not be capable of projecting like that,” Meylan said with a moderate degree of disbelief in his voice.   

“Take me back in.”  Aeryn was already stripping off her quilted clothing.  D’Argo took her tunic and pants from her in a daze, not understanding any of the disjointed conversation bouncing between the two suddenly energized people.  “I know,” Aeryn cut Meylan off before he could warn her.  “I know it’s dangerous, but I’m not giving up if there’s still a chance.” 

“Aeryn, what is going on?” D’Argo finally insisted. 

She continued to ignore him, plunging into the pool to pull John off the bottom while she waited for Meylan to join her.  She had him floating on his back with her hands wrapped around his head by the time the priest pulled off his vestments and joined her.  The transition was instantaneous. 

Aeryn.  He slid into her with a rush.  AerynAerynAeryn.  I thought, I thought, I thought I’d driven you away forever. 

Random images tumbled about them, swooping and diving at them.  John batted them away, refusing to let them touch him again.  She could feel the constant, tiring battle against their urge to chaos. 

I’m sorry, I’m sorry.  Are you all right?  Did I hurt you? 

You did not hurt me.  I’m all right.  Can you maintain this?  Do we need to help you? 

No, I can do it on my own now.  I just forgot for a little bit.  I won’t forget again. 

You won’t forget what?  There was no answer.  She asked it again.  You won’t forget what, John?

You. 

They floated together for what felt like several arns, doing very little beyond being with each other, sometimes sharing images and the small fragments of memories that John would show her and ask her about. 

What’s this?  

I’m not sure.  It looks like you when you were very young. 

Me? 

Yes, you.  John Crichton. 

What’s this? 

That’s called a tavlek.  You call them tavloids. 

I do?  Why do I call them that? 

No one knows.  We have never been able to figure that out about you. 

Aeryn, what’s THIS?  He let a wave of something flow outward so she could experience what he was feeling. 

That’s an easy one, she told him.  She caught it, added her own version to the emotion and sent it rolling back, steadying him when the intensity threatened to overwhelm him. 

That’s nice, he sighed, letting it rebound toward her.  What’s that called?

You already know.  It brought you back to me.  It’s called love. 

* * * * *

Aeryn drifted across the larger pool, letting the gravity reducing effect of the water ease the cramped muscles in her neck and shoulders.  She was beginning to understand Crichton’s love of hot water, although she would have preferred the temperature somewhat lower if it had been for herself.  Standing half-submerged during the Meetings never triggered the onset of heat delirium, but the pools were too warm to allow her more than an occasional brief immersion to relax.  If it had been cooler, she would have welcomed a long relaxing swim. 

Jool and Chiana were arguing again, their voices bouncing off the walls of the chamber in a non-stop percussive rattle.  They had been sitting immersed up to their necks when she first floated by, and it sounded as though they were still resting in the shallow area of the pool, scrapping about something of little or no consequence. 

A dark flash streaked across the bottom of the pool.  A moment later Rygel popped to the surface.  The hynerian had been surprisingly willing to participate in the Meetings with John … provided he was allowed to wallow in the water to his heart’s content afterward.  He had spent as much time in the water as out of it over the last twelve planetary days. 

Aeryn looked back across the pool to the benches where they had all left their clothes.  D’Argo was sleeping on the warm tiles beside the pool.  He was taking advantage of a break in the nearly constant attempts to get John to interact with them outside his quiet dreaming place.  They were all showing signs of fatigue.  The repeated Meetings were taking more out of them than some of their most violent physical encounters.  No one had made the slightest complaint, though, and it had become commonplace for one or two of them to be watching from the side when someone attempted to reach John in his secluded world.  Even Jool had learned to subdue her arrogance long enough to find John, initiating one of the longest Meetings so far as she shared her accurate recall, showing John many of the things he had left behind when he retreated into his mind. 

She turned over on her stomach and slid smoothly underwater, taking her time as she swam to the far side of the larger pool.  She surfaced at the wall that separated the larger pool from the smaller enclosure that held Crichton whenever he was resting.  Both pools held the same not-quite-water mix, but John was kept in a separate area where the fluid was constantly filtered and treated to keep him healthy.  Aeryn leaned her forearms on the wall, pulled her upper body out of the heat, and watched him.  The only motion was his hair lifting and wafting in the occasional current.  Some days there was a lot of activity in there, rolls and stretches, random grabs or blows at nothing, followed by day-long stretches of death-like stillness. 

She reached over the partition and held her hand just above the surface of the water, feeling the barely seen vapor striking her palm, driven by the fizzing streams of oxygen.  Below her John stretched slightly, batted in watery slow motion against something invisible near his head, then turned and looked up at the surface.  The misaimed eyes continued to shock her, as did the look he sometimes wore that seemed to indicate some awareness of his surroundings.  But there wasn’t any sight, any more than there was awareness. 

There had not been a relapse since the devastating event three days earlier.  Unfortunately there had not been much progress either.  John’s memories remained trapped somewhere in the damaged portions of his brain, his reasoning remained a hit-or-miss capability at best, and his unwillingness to leave his private universe had not eased even a micro-dench.  He greeted each of them happily when they arrived, reveled in their company during the Meeting, and steadfastly refused to get anywhere near the exit when they invited him to leave with them. 

“He’s going to recover, Aeryn.” 

Chiana floated next to her.  Aeryn had not heard her approach.  She had been too deeply immersed in her thoughts about the past few solar days and what lay ahead. 

“You have to believe it,” Chiana said, breaking into her reverie for the second time. 

Chiana’s assurances could not have come at a worse moment.  Aeryn had spent the preceding day and most of this one deliberately avoiding the portion of her mind that held the possibility of failure.  It was too difficult to maintain a positive outlook as the days went by with little change in John’s condition.  She could not afford to spend even a few microts considering what would happen if they could not draw John away from his quiet dreaming place.  Not this soon after the near-calamity three nights earlier.  Not ever. 

“How much of their resources do you think the delvians are putting into maintaining this environment for him?” she asked instead.

“Very little, Aeryn Sun.”  They turned together, startled by Tahleen’s quiet answer.  “And any drain on our capacity would be too small to repay our gratitude.” 

Chiana’s curiosity got the better of her, and she asked the question that no one on board Moya had answered to her satisfaction.  “What do you owe them for?”

“Crichton and Pa’u Zotoh Zhaan risked themselves -- risked their identity and their sanity to ensure that our madness spread no further.  It was Zhaan’s wisdom that turned us back from a path that would have led to our destruction.”  Tahleen sank gracefully into a seated position with her legs tucked under her.  “Our community is stronger, more powerful than we ever could have hoped, and we have begun building a new home here instead of the temporary sanctuary we once envisioned.”  She dipped her hand into the water, watched the drops trail off her fingers.  “We would give a great deal more than we are currently providing in order to restore John Crichton to health.” 

“Can you do it?  Can you heal him completely?”  Aeryn felt a resurgence of hope. 

“We can heal his body and guide his mind along the route to recovery,” Tahleen said, “but it will be up to him to decide to make the journey back to rejoin you.”  She paused for a microt, considering her words.  “We have seen only small portions of his ordeal.  It will not be an easy process, and there is --”  She paused again.  “You should maintain the most positive mental outlook possible if you are to be of the greatest help to him.”

“Finish what you were going to say,” Chiana demanded.  “Our strong suit is deception.  Don’t try to beat us at our own game.” 

Aeryn agreed with the request.  “Finish it.  Tell us the whole truth.” 

Tahleen stared at her hands and remained silent for almost fifteen microts.  “There is the possibility that he will not choose to make the effort to return the rest of the way to you,” she said at last.  “The level of trauma is much greater than anything we have ever experienced, and the physical damage is extensive.  If John Crichton rejoins this realm his body can be restored, but he must make the effort first.  His recovery three days ago would be a very positive sign, except that he has become even more resistant to the idea of leaving since then.”

Below them the eyes closed and the subject of the conversation coasted in the current until he bumped lightly against a wall, then began a slow traverse back across the short distance to the other side.  Aeryn slid over the barrier and ducked under water to grab him.  She floated him toward the surface until his shoulders were against her stomach, allowing him to remain curled up.  She stroked his cheek a few times then began gently rubbing her thumbs against the tendons at the back of his neck. 

“Come back, John.  You can make it.”  She whispered it to him, pitching her voice was so low that she was sure the two women sitting less than two motras away would not be able to hear her over the sibilant hiss of oxygen fizzing from the surface of the pool.  “It’s just a little farther, you can make it.”

Gentle stroking against the back of his neck, a sensation from a different life, belonging to someone else.  Deep breath of contentment, the tide’s ebb and flow moving deeper to somehow enter his soul.  His head ached as always, but he took another deep breath through his nose and the warmth eased the pain.  The rhythm was entering his mind, lulling him into a place of peace and security.  He tried stretching a little, but it brought the ever-present ache back without managing to actually move any of his muscles.  His body answered its own agenda:  moving when he least expected it and remaining dormant when he commanded it.   

He had found a new memory, one consisting of blue skies, warm air, and a yellow light in the sky.  He wanted to ask Aeryn about it and the place that John was supposed to fill in this vision.  There weren’t any hulking creatures in the remembered place, but something else was missing as well. 

The rubbing moved to his chest, stroking him up and down, gradually migrating to the base of his throat where it somehow convinced the body around him to relax and straighten out. 

This was enough.  Small touches and warmth.  No need to go anywhere else.  This quiet dreaming place and Aeryn was all he needed to sustain him.



* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

100
Crashfic / Chapter 5
« Last post by KernilCrash on June 09, 2016, 08:31:43 PM »
Chapter 5

They had come for him earlier.  Both groups had been there, although not at the same time.  The large indistinct forms had breached the walls first, the ones with the heavy hands and cruel intentions.  He had tried to run away, only to have his flight arrested when the pain returned, leaving him gasping his new breathing medium in terror.  He had huddled into his own shadow, pressing himself into an ever smaller space and hoping they wouldn’t notice him.  They had been drawing closer when the presence of the second set of visitors had banished them. 

The patient, serene ones had eased into his quiet dreaming space, enquiring before they entered.  He had welcomed their presence and they had let him cry out his fear, not understanding entirely, but offering soothing touches anyway.  They had asked him to stretch out, to roll over on his back and straighten out, and when he could not move they had helped him.  The mass of hands had covered his chest as they had before, except for one set that remained to reassure him when the pressure and pain began. 

It had seemed to go on forever, but then again all things seemed eternal in this place. 

At the height of the pain, his left arm had tried to thrash on its own.  A single pair of hands had attended to the sharp, stabbing tightness in his shoulder, easing but not removing the radiating spikes of pain while holding his limb tight against a recurrence of the uncontrolled movement.  The pressure built until he felt as though his chest was about to explode, and he called to the one at his head, asking for it to stop. 

Almost over, it was almost over, the refrain rang in his mind. 

He felt worse than he had at any time since he had found this quiet dreaming place.  He felt as though he were dying. 

Aeryn!  He couldn’t die again because of what it would do to Aeryn.  They had to make sure he didn’t die again.

Almost over, the thought returned to his mind. 

The liquid breath stopped in his throat, the hands seemed to disappear although he knew they were still there, and all that he was faded into the darkness. 

 
* * * * *


John was in the smaller, deeper pool where the delvians had chosen to place him while making the repairs to his heart.  He had curled up into the fetal position and, without the air in his lungs to help him float, had sunk to hover halfway between the bottom of the pool and the surface.  The water continued to fizz as the excess oxygen escaped, but this enclosure was warm and dry, a pleasant change from the cool drizzle that persisted in the other chamber.  The air was being drawn out of this room from near the ceiling, driven in part by the even heat radiating from the entire floor.   

With the exception of Aeryn, it was the first time any of the crew had seen John since they had brought him to the moon, and they were all in various stages of shock.  D’Argo and Chiana joined Aeryn at the side of the pool where they all knelt down in order to get a better look at the submerged, floating Crichton.  Rygel hovered over the center of the watery enclosure, perhaps getting the best view of John and his resting place.  Jool walked around to the far side of the pool where she could watch the others.  Questions, answers, and exclamations echoed off the tiled walls for hundreds of microts.

“Can he breathe in there?” the Dominar asked.  “I did not know his species could extract oxygen from water.” 

“Isn’t he going to get all wrinkly the way Crichton does when he takes long showers?”  Chiana’s question sounded before Rygel’s could be answered. 

A delvian specialist was standing with them, explaining everything as they slowly recovered from their initial disbelief.  “The liquid is super-saturated with oxygen.  His lungs will function no differently than usual, and this is the medium in which they grew.  It is difficult for one such as John Crichton to adjust to the fluid moving through the passageways, but once that is habituated this is actually very beneficial for his breathing.  The fluid is matched to his physiology.  There is the correct balance of minerals to match his cellular structure, so his skin will remain unaffected by long submersion.” 

“They said it wasn’t really water,” Aeryn said, remembering her own shock when she had first seen John’s new environment. 

“It is close,” acknowledged their guide, “but carefully maintained to sustain John Crichton and keep him healthy.” 

D’Argo listened to the flow of questions and answers, and finally let out an angry snarl. 

“Is there some point not to your liking?”  The delvian was immediately concerned. 

“Yes,” D’Argo admitted slowly, stringing the word out in a low growl. 

Chiana laughed, as always, and said, “It’s just going to be too much like taking a bath for D’Argo.”  The look on D’Argo’s face was a wordless confirmation that Chiana had hit the target dead center.  The delvian healer opened his mouth to say something, and then closed it without responding, looking uncertainly at the tall luxan dressed in the quilted clothes.

“It does not matter,” D’Argo grumbled.  “I will participate in Meetings with John as many times as is necessary.  I simply wish it did not have to be in there.” 

Aeryn grinned at his complaint, feeling more light-hearted than she had at any time since John had been captured.  The prognosis was in question, John’s recovery was far from certain, and even if they could get him to abandon the refuge inside his mind there was no guarantee that he would ever be the man he had been before his capture.  But for the first time since she had seen him lying on the scarran’s table, she felt that there was a chance that he might recover. 

She knelt at the edge of the pool, leaning close to the water in order to watch John as he floated quietly.  Although many of the small ticks and twitches remained, most of the large, random muscle contractions had stopped, responding to the nearly constant efforts to repair his nervous system.  His eyes were open, and he was breathing more easily.  The one thing that had not changed was the complete lack of awareness or intelligence in the body beneath her.  Aeryn tried to remember a time when John had ever looked so senseless or so … empty.  Only his first night’s sleep after being rescued from the Gammak Base had come close, and that death-like coma had not been nearly as disturbing as the stillness of this apparently deserted vessel.

“Come back, John,” she implored to him in a whisper.  “Be strong.  Do not leave me.” 

Behind her, the flow of questions eased and then trickled to a stop as the expertise of their guide satisfied all of their concerns. 

“What about his heart?” she asked into the ensuing silence.  “Were you able to repair it completely?  His species is very susceptible to that type of damage.”     

“The healing was completed during the night.  We are convinced that there will be no adverse effects from the injury. His condition will be closely monitored during the remainder of his time here to ensure that his heart operates normally.” 

The delvian stripped off his robes, slid smoothly into the water, and gathered Crichton up from near the bottom.  He placed his hands opposite each other on the center of John’s back and chest, and then his eyes shifted to a solid, inward-looking blue and he went entirely still.  He smiled suddenly. 

“What is it?” asked Jool.  “What have you found?”

“I comprehend the symmetry now, and understand what was missing during the past days.  It is not a particularly well-designed organ, but there is an elegance to its construction.  Very interesting.”  He ran his hands over Crichton’s torso, neck and head in a proprietary manner then nudged him into a descent to where he had been floating.  “His physical condition is much improved.  He should have no problem coping with the psychological struggle now.” 

* * * * *


John? 

She was there, he had to answer -- he had to wake up from his dying state and answer.

John Crichton, come talk to me. 

Am I alive?  

You certainly are, and you are not leaving until I give you permission. 

AERYN!

She was thrown back by his elation, tossed almost completely out of his mind by the force of his arrival.  Daaren caught her mentally before she tumbled all of the way out, nudging her back to where she had been.  She moved forward more slowly the second time, searching cautiously, and was puzzled to discover that John was absent when she got back to where they had met only microts earlier. 

John?  She tried a gentle probe, not understanding why or how he had disappeared. 

The touch, when it wafted toward her, was meek and contrite.  I’m sorry.  I didn’t mean to do it. 

She attempted a mental laugh.  You did not do anything wrong. 

Aeryn’s back!  I’m alive!  Aeryn, I don’t hurt much anymore.  

His happiness was intoxicating, rolling over both of them in waves that emanated entirely from him.  She could feel the ease in his body.  The persistent aches were almost entirely gone, and the taut feeling in his stomach that had been mistaken as hunger was missing.  Her connection with him allowed her to understand that it had been a careful tension waiting to try in vain to control the sporadic arrhythmias coming from his damaged heart.  Now there was only a relaxed feeling behind his sternum, and a pleasant emptiness that waited for food.

I did something new today! 

The simple joy was conveyed from his mind to hers, a large, easily translated symbol, encased in pride and pleasure.  He was so pleased with his new accomplishment.  She asked him to tell her about it. 

I SLEPT.  

The shock tossed her all of the way out of his mind this time.  She released her grip and turned to look first at Daaren and then up at where all four of her shipmates were waiting to see how her Meeting progressed.  They were hoping to learn something, but the only outward manifestation they had observed so far was her motionless position at John’s head. 

“He hasn’t slept?  This was the first time?  The first time in … how many days?”  She kept her voice low, trying to control her disbelief as she counted back, trying to remember how long they had been on the moon. 

Daaren nodded.  “His mental state has been one very close to dreaming, but he has not experienced the complete surcease of consciousness since the injuries occurred.  This is a very encouraging step in his recovery, and dreaming will provide him with an avenue of healing unlike no other.”

“Just dreaming?” Chiana asked.  The shipmates glanced at each other.  A complex waltz of unspoken thoughts shifted from one person to another, ricocheting around the group as they all considered Crichton’s long history with emotionally charged nightmares. 

“We will monitor him to forestall any nightmares, at least until we feel he will benefit from the catharsis sometimes offered by frightening visions.”  The blue-skinned mystic still had not moved away from Crichton, patiently waiting until Aeryn was ready to resume the Meeting.  She willingly placed her hands inside his and slid back into Crichton’s mind.   

She had to go looking for him again.  He had withdrawn into another ball of inexplicable guilt.  His reaction was the same as the first time. 

I didn’t mean to do it.  

What did you do? 

I made you leave.  I’m sorry. 

You did not do anything wrong; nothing is your fault. 

She eased around him, trying to envelope him in reassurance as she had the first time she had visited him inside his mind.  John seemed to melt into her, letting every guard down, exposing everything that he was and knew.  She faltered and he started to bolt again. 

Get back here, John Crichton! 

He stopped and eased back.  Is it all right?  Can I be here?  You don’t mind?  

No, I don’t mind.  She wondered how a person managed to sigh mentally. 

Aeryn surrounded the mental touch that she knew she could never live without, and let all of her tension and worry flow away from them both.  Just as she thought her own reservoir of concern was empty, the flood was doubled, tripled, turning into a torrent of anxiety that coursed out of him, swept past her, and disappeared.  They sighed on the same breath, not because they were joined, but because they were designated to be together always. 

That felt so good.  There was so little left inside him now that all of that stuff was gone.  He was tired.  He was so very tired now. 

Should I go?  Should I leave you in your tiredness so you can try this new ‘sleep’ thing again? 

No.  Please don’t go yet.  Because … because … because … Aeryn?  Who is this? 

He showed her a memory he had found, a memory of a lean figure with silvery gray hair, dressed in a bulky white apparatus and carrying a large helmet.  She was lucky.  She knew who it was.  She sent the answer sailing, a gestalt of who and what it meant. 

Dad?  A father?  I don’t remember.  

You will.  It will all come back, don’t worry. 

She felt someone beckoning and knew she had been here longer than she had thought. 

They’re going to make you leave aren’t they? 

Yes, it’s time for me to go.  Does that bother you? 

I know them.  They’re the Nice People you told me about.  You can go, I’ll wait here. 

She felt him settle down into a relaxed position, lacking any inclination to accompany her.  It was too soon to expect anything else.  She gave him a mental caress, sent a symbol sailing toward him that conveyed an assurance that she would return very soon, and then, once she felt that John had captured the image and understood it, she let herself be pulled away. 

* * * * *


Aeryn tugged her tunic down into place, welcoming the warmth that lingered there from the heated tiles.  “There’s so little of him left,” she said to everyone waiting by the side of the pool.  She had been close to tears as she had climbed out of the water and had described the revelation that had almost driven her out of John’s mind for a third time.  “He opened up completely, showed me everything that he knew of himself.  There’s --”  Her voice cracked into silence, forcing her to start over.  “There’s almost nothing left.  Too much of him has been destroyed.”  She felt the burning sting develop behind her eyes, and looked away from the others, trying to prevent the tears that promised to breach her control.   

“This was a mistake.”  Chiana’s subdued remark seemed to speak for them all.  Aeryn nodded, her face hidden behind her hands. 

“You are wrong.” 

The flatly delivered statement jolted them out of their depressed reveries. 

“What he showed you was everything he has access to right now.  More exists but has been cut off from his ability to find it by damage.”  Meylan moved into their midst, displacing Daaren who slowly backed out of the group.  “He is fighting hard to survive; you must do at least as much.”  He was chastising them in the kindest of terms.  “I know this is not easy for any of you, but you need to consider that this is the first day in quite some time that he has been comfortable physically.  Now that his psyche is no longer focused on the corporeal, he should begin to make greater strides with the mental and spiritual.  Give him time and --”

“Patience!” 

Meylan jumped as five voices chanted the last word at him.  They were all smiling now, even if a bit weakly.  They had hope. 

* * * * *


D’Argo volunteered to try a Meeting with John next.  Chiana accompanied him to watch how it was done.  They stood together, waiting while two of the healers who specialized in physical injuries slid into the pool and gradually pulled John out of his tightly curled position.  His body resisted at first, but they repeatedly eased his limbs straight until he finally floated stretched out on his back.  They brought him closer to the surface in order to examine him, performing the inspection entirely by touch.  Crichton twitched and jerked under their hands, his nervous system spurred into more random signals by their handling.  They ignored the reaction, persisting until they had run their fingers over his entire body and seemed satisfied with his condition. 

“John.  Why couldn’t we have gotten there sooner, John?” D’Argo breathed, watching the spastic responses to the delvians’ examination. 

“It’s not your fault, D’Argo.”  Chiana rubbed his shoulder, sympathizing with the distraught luxan.  “He was doing what he wanted to … what he really, really wanted to be doing when he got caught.  Crichton was making sure that Aeryn and the rest of us got away safely before he followed.  You know you could not have stopped him from doing that.”

D’Argo did not bother to answer.  He pulled off the quilted shirt and pants, leaving only a pair of tight fitting shorts, and slid into the water to stand next to the Pa’u who had joined the other two delvians.  He let them guide his hands to John’s head and focused all of his attention on his desire to have his friend restored to him, a technique that Aeryn had suggested.  He allowed that single desire to consume him.   

It was quiet.  The stillness was complete except for a hissing that increased and faded in time with the waves of bubbles that washed across his skin, stroking it into the painful random responses that had become a constant in this existence.  The sensations shifted and mutated endlessly, changing from one equally uncomfortable feeling to the next, each set of signals as confused as the one before.  He was supposed to feel wet, but he itched, ached, burned, felt as though he had been flayed raw, went back to a horrible nameless discomfort, and began the random cycle again.

Pulses from the waves rocked him, urging him to allow his attention to drift away from the migration of sensations.  He swallowed warm water and was surrounded by warmth, making the vibrations in his nervous system bearable.  The warm flood was in his chest, his throat, his stomach and had worked its way into his ears and sinuses.  It was an all-encompassing heat creating complete lassitude.  He tried to curl up, but whoever had disturbed him was insisting that he lie flat, and he had not managed to find the place where his muscles obeyed his desires. 

The hiss of the bubbles was broken by a double cadence, twin heartbeats sounding near his head.  D’Argo knew that it was his own hearts he was hearing, sensed through the ears of another.  He caught himself on the sound and followed it back to the person who was really hearing it.  He found him lying lazily on his back, enjoying the way the steady double whump-thump echoed inside his head.  D‘Argo hung there, just shy of making contact, not wanting to move any closer because he was so pleased to find John in this quiet place and he did not want to cause the tranquil moment to end. 

Long enough, a mentality told him, showing him that time did not flow the same way in this floating place, and he moved carefully toward the mesmerized personality. 

Hello John. 

Do I know you?  The fear-laden concern blossomed in a chest that had room for another kind of ache now that the stabbing pain was gone.  

I am Ka D’Argo and we are friends. 

Aeryn didn’t tell me you were coming, I’m not sure, I don’t know, I don’t think this is right.  Large figures, huge figures, non-human figures doing something, something he refused to remember.  He would NOT remember that. This was not human, this was a large lurking presence with aggression in its soul.

D’Argo felt him skitter away, on the verge of bolting completely, and sought a way of remaining calm despite a burst of frustration.  He envisioned Jothee as a young child, sampled that protective love, and then reached out with paternal concern and indulgence.  The frightened mentality hesitated, stopped its retreat. 

Let me show you, John.  Come back one step, and let me show you how we know each other. 

One step?  ONE step? 

There was a timid reconnoiter. 

I can take just one step.  

One more, John, I can’t show you if you stay where you are now.  Just one more. 

One, one, one … I can take one more step.  He eased closer, wary to the point of explosion. 

D’Argo showed him.   

He turned from his stance on Command and saw the hated Peacekeeper standing uncertain, looking inexplicably afraid, dressed in a strange orange garment.  The snared sebacean gave a queer smile and waved slightly, uttered odd words, all Peacekeeper arrogance quenched by his capture.  The rage against his captors welled up inside his two hearts and in three long strides he had the figure by the throat, lifting him up with the intention of either getting the desired information out of him or killing him, not necessarily in that order.  His bellowed question brought no answer, and he prepared himself to snap the soldier’s neck.  There was a whine and the yellow flash of a DRD near his feet, and the unit injected the captive with something.  Translator microbes?  It was the only thing possible, but what kind of Peacekeeper lacked them, he asked himself.  Frustration and anger threatened to rule him, but a choking answer was being uttered. 

Flip over, tuck yourself inside your own body and turn inside out, and that might be what it felt like.  Queasy, momentarily nauseous, and he was the one hanging from an unbelievably strong hand.  Reality had deserted him long before the module had been drawn into this ship.  Nothing made any sense at this point.  He struggled for air and listened to garbled noises, ridiculous thoughts running through his head even as he fought against the grip that was slowly strangling him.  ‘Whoa, Rastafarian octopus got that guy by the head!’  There was a figure of blue elegance standing serenely in the midst of chaotic insanity, a look of stressed amusement and suspicion on her face.  He felt love blossom immediately, without any understanding of why it had happened.  A sharp pain in his foot, and his world shook itself and gave hearing back.  The deep barking garble separated itself into words -- the first step toward understanding a new life that could not be understood.   

Reverse flip, turn outside in, and D’Argo found himself drifting with John again, a joyous shout full of new symbols and images ringing inside his mind. 

D’ARGO!  I know D’Argo, Big Dee, Heavy Dee, Big Guy, Rasta-man, my friend!! 

For the first time, he understood the terms and what each one meant to John. 

Not confidence yet, but some trust, the double heartbeats bringing more serenity to the jumbled collection that raced around chaotically in his mind. 

I’m here, John, I will be here whenever you need me.  All you will need to do is reach out and ask, and I will come to help you. 

D’Argo, D’Argo, D’Argo will come.  He cast about wildly -- excitement, hope, and fear tangling into an emotional mess.  D’Argo!  You’ll help when I need you? 

The fear was back, the tiny remaining molecule instantaneously expanding into an enveloping miasma that invaded every portion of his mind as it moved in to possess the thoughts that had once been John. 

Yes, I will help you whenever you need me, he assured the mind. 

D’Argo … they’re there, you have to help me now, they’re there and they want to hurt me.  Please, D’Argo, you have to stop them.  Please don’t let them hurt me any more. 

Show me, John, show me where they are and I’ll keep you safe. 

It was the wrong thing to suggest, driving the wary touch into full flight.  D’Argo sighed and straightened up from his stooped position.  “I frelled that up,” he growled.  He looked at his submerged friend and wondered if they would let him try again right away. 

“What happened, D’Argo?  What went wrong?”  Chiana was wearing just the shorts and insulated top, sitting with her legs dangling in the water while she waited for him to finish his Meeting with Crichton.  “You must have found him; you were there for more than an arn.” 

D’Argo shook his head, braids and tanktas swinging wildly, wordlessly expressing his disgust with himself for frightening Crichton at the end. 

“Ka D’Argo, you established trust.  That is a significant accomplishment.  The fear he experienced was not directed toward you.  You will be able to build on this base the next time.”  The Pa’u had reestablished physical contact with Crichton, eyes half closed as he explored their results while he explained.  “It is rare for laypersons such as yourselves to be able to establish a Meeting on the first attempt.  That, in and of itself, is a tribute to your concern for his welfare.  There will be more opportunities soon.” 

“Could I go back now?” D’Argo asked.  “I want him to know that I did not mean to scare him.” 

The priest smiled tolerantly.  “I believe he knows that, but his awareness is not quite as ordered as the images you experienced might suggest.  He is calm now, but he is also quite tired.  There will be adequate time to try again over the next days.” 

* * * * *


Chiana was lecturing herself as she moved slowly into the quiet realm.  Calm, calm, calm, calm and easy.  This was like creeping up on a flibisk that knows it’s being hunted.  D’Argo and Aeryn had described their experiences to her, and warned her of Crichton’s new suspicious nature. 

She found him drifting in the encompassing warmth they had tried without success to explain to her. 

It was beyond warmth, beyond buoyancy.  It was life itself, peace without qualification, a deep and abiding security, an anodyne against the memories that he was fighting not to remember.  She found him drifting in the heat, feeling like he was napping in a hammock on a hot summer day.  He was annoyed that they would not let him curl up into the position that felt so right, that made him feel so secure, but the displeasure was so minor, it was almost non-existent.  He wanted to stretch, to feel the pleasant tug of muscles against the underlying skeleton, but movement was forbidden, and every small motion set off the crawling discomfort anyway.  He basked in the heat, satisfied that it was his entire world.  That was where she found him, her greeting bursting out of her on a wave of excitement. 

Hey, Old Man!! 

“Frell.”  Chiana slid her hands out from under Lorana’s and started to move away.  “I scared him away.” 

“Try again,” Lorana coaxed. 

Chiana looked up at Aeryn and Rygel, who were watching from the tiled expanse next to the pool.  Aeryn nodded encouragement. 

“He took off like a scalded drannit,” Chiana said morosely.  “He was moving so fast, I don’t think I’m going to be able to find him.” 

Lorana took her more firmly by the hands and led her back to the floating patient.  “He is still relaxed.  You startled him, but he was not frightened.  I think you may be able to locate him more easily than you expect.”  Aeryn thought she heard the beginning of laughter in the priest’s quiet words, but Lorana’s back was turned so she could not be sure. 

Chiana let her hands be guided into place and looked down at the dark hair ruffling in the currents.  “Calm and easy, calm and easy,” she chanted to herself, and then concentrated on the image of having Crichton back aboard Moya with them, healthy and whole. 

OLD MAN!! 

It was his yell this time, and it startled her to the point that she almost bolted from his mind.  There was delvian laughter in her mind as she was steadied and pushed back toward the bright spark of excitement. 

I’m Old Man, I remember, but who are you? … uh, you’re gray.  Wait!  You’re supposed to be gray.  I know, I know, I know you! … Who are you? 

She waited for his confused exhilaration to die down.  I’m Chiana.  She felt the thought run around in circles without finding an anchor in his mind.  Can I show you, Crichton?  Will you let me show you? 

He skittered away, bounded back, took another step away, and stopped.  Did they send you?  Did THEY send you? 

Who, Old Man? 

The Nice People.  The people who make the pain go away, and scare away the Others. 

Yes, that’s who brought me here. 

Scuttle closer, retreat, bounce further away, ease back, closer, closer.  A whisper of a touch, curiosity overcoming fright, investigating what it meant to have gray skin. 

Show me?
 

She showed him. 

Abiding despair that she had been captured and was facing a personal destruction too terrible to contemplate.  A heartless machine on two legs forcing her forward into strange surroundings to stand next to one of the mindless corpses they had created, a reminder of her fate, the promised destruction of all that she was and ever had been.  Her hands bound, every movement controlled by the collar that ensured she had no volition, no choice to be a person.  She looked up and saw the curiosity, concern for the bound and restrained stranger showing plainly in his face.  Broad shoulders, blue eyes, muscles showing plainly beneath the gray shirt, his body telling her that he understood the degradation of bondage and wanted to see her released.  She was towed away, looking back to plead silently for her salvation. 

Upside down, turn around, a contortionist’s trick.  He looked at the collar and bound hands and fought to keep from lunging forward to attack the gray skinned minder.  Black eyes burrowing into his, seeking forgiveness, release, sexual affirmation of life.  The image of his sister that had sprung into his mind without summons vanished under that gaze.  Temptation to go after them to discover who this criminal was, to see if she was as wrongfully accused as he had been, pursued in innocence, hounded across the stars because of a misconception.  He worried about what the others would think, these beings he depended on for continued survival.  They were his only hope for life, so he pondered and watched her disappear into the passageway.

Turn around, upside down, turned right side out.  We’re a fine pair of refugees, aren’t we Crichton? 

Chiana, I’m sorry that you’re alone. 

Loneliness isn’t necessary anymore, Old Man, we’re here and we love you.

I know, I know, I know … what else do I know? 

He was sad and plaintive, searching for something more, seeking something else for her to show him so that she wouldn’t leave him here alone.  She had been told about this, warned what to do, so she bound herself up in the concern for his long-term welfare and sent the thought they had all rehearsed.  It wasn’t a big symbol, but it was complex and she had to get it right. 

I’ll be nearby, Crichton.  I’ll be just over there and you can come visit me soon.  Someone will be here to visit you later, but you can come to see us if you want. 

NoNoNo.  I’ll stay here, and you can stay here too.  You don’t have to leave?  Do you? 

You can come any time you are ready.  She moved away.  He held his ground, not tempted to follow. 

Don’t go, please stay. 

I’ll be back. 

Chiana was lifted clear of the water, embraced in a warm towel and hard muscled arms.  Her vision cleared, sharpening as she wiped tears from her eyes.  She was leaning against Aeryn, something she never would have expected.  The former soldier did not ask her what had happened, just held her until the crying stopped and then let her sit up on her own. 

Chiana turned to look at Aeryn and Rygel.  “He’s so lonely and scared.” 

“Did you do what we discussed?” Aeryn asked, both elated that they had found their first opportunity to urge John away from his refuge and heartbroken that he was still frightened.   

“Yes.  It was hard, but I told him he could come out whenever he wanted and then I left.”  She wanted to say more, but the lump in her throat clogged the words.  Crichton had been released and hovered alone in the pool, curled up tightly seeking the security of his most basic memory.  Their view of him cleared for a microt as a mass of warm water billowed to the surface, acting like a lens to reveal the curled hands resting alongside both sides of his head, mouth open as he tried to breathe something thicker than air. 

“Let’s go talk with the others,” Aeryn suggested.  Each person had pledged to reveal everything they had learned while Meeting with John, putting aside their individual concerns about privacy in the interest of making each trip more productive. 

“Aeryn.”  Chiana stared at the lean ex-Peacekeeper, wondering if she should ask the question now or later.  The enquiring look encouraged her to ask it now.  “What is that thought about ‘Others’ that has him so worried?”  Aeryn’s blank look told her that they had something else to find out. 

* * * * *


Jool tried next and was abruptly tossed out of his mind three times in a row.  Her hair turned an iridescent shade of red at the rejection, but Tahleen assured her that it was almost certainly Crichton’s fatigue and not her personality causing the problem.  Aeryn caught a delvian smile of devious amusement as Jool disappeared through the doorway leading from the chamber. 

“John’s not tired?” 

“He is quite well rested.  Desire to help and an ability to subordinate one’s own ego tend to be the keys to a joining of this type.”  Tahleen watched as Rygel floated into the chamber on his throne sled and dropped into the larger pool with almost no splash, leaving his chair floating near one of the benches.  “It is a wasted opportunity, however.  He is not resisting.  He merely could not establish any sort of communication with her and became frustrated enough to close her out.”   

The dark green form popped to the surface and Rygel smiled in delight.  “This is the correct size of a dominar’s bath.  It is simply too bad that there aren’t the correct number of attendants.”  He looked from Tahleen to Aeryn and his untroubled expression shifted to one of concern.  “Why are you both looking at me like that?”

* * * * *


Crichton, where the yotz are you? 

Who are YOU?  Do you belong here? 

Of course I belong here, I am … 

Wait! I remember you, I remember, I know who you are!  You’re KERMIT! 

I am not.  I am Dominar Rygel the Sixteenth.  I am a hynerian of the highest royal house, and I have no idea who this Kermit person is. 

Oh. 

The chastised mentality retreated, returned to see what he was like, and backed away timidly.  You’re kind of like the Others only smaller.  Did they send you?  He backed away, anxiety pushing him away faster and faster.
 

Fear.  An emotion with which he was all too familiar.  It did not seem to go well with the huge ugly personality. 

I’m ugly? 

More anxiety washed over Rygel, a product of his own carelessness with his thoughts.  No, you are said to be very good looking for your species. 

The bundle of randomized thoughts plonked itself down a small distance away to consider this new problem.  What was ugly?  What was he that was ugly?  What part of him was this ugly part? 

Crichton, you are not ugly.  I should not have made that thought about you.  I’m sorry. 

Sorrysorrysorry.  Regret, remorse, disappointment, grief.  A new set of symbols were discovered, but they had to be considered carefully, turned over and over until he could determine where they fit in the flow of symbols that sailed around him now. 

Crichton … Crichton, pay attention.  John? 

I’m John … right? 

Perhaps I should leave now. 

Aren’t you going to show me anything?  The others showed me things. 

Do you want me to show you something? 

That would be okay.  The others showed me when we met, is that what I get to see?  When we met?  The enthusiasm was building again, the anxious mental wandering falling back before the wonder. 

No, this day is more appropriate.  He showed him a day when his actions had doomed Crichton and D’Argo to a heroic sacrifice like none other he had ever seen, when Crichton’s compassion had taught him a lesson and bonded his loyalty to the gangling human forever.  “Rygel, I believe doing the right thing begins at the start of the day.”  There had been a quick pressure on his head, one of the human embraces they used in place of a proper kiss, and he had known that he had been forgiven.  He braced himself for the flip, the change in viewpoint they had warned him about, but it did not happen. 

I remember that now.  I was angry with you but it didn’t matter anymore.  And there was something wrong inside my head.  Something terrible had happened recently … what was it?  What had happened before that? 

Rygel thought of the mental rape that Crichton had suffered in the Aurora Chair and compared it to his present condition.  That had been almost gentle compared to this.  He bound those images up and kept them obscured. 

There had been a battle and you were wounded, he told the inquisitive mind. 

I was … I was wounded … Who is I?  Who is John?  Where is he and what is he like?  Can you tell me?  Will you stay here and show me? 

Rygel saw his chance to do what he had been told.  I can’t stay right now, Crichton.  But you can come with me if you like, any time you wish to depart you are welcome to accompany me. 

I don’t think so.  I think it’s better if I stay here.  You can go though, I’ll understand. 

Rygel let himself be drawn away, feeling the warm water washing around his appropriately dimensioned body even as he looked back to see the hunched figure sitting alone. 

“Rygel?  What happened?” 

He looked at Aeryn in confusion; he was having trouble adjusting to the light and noise around him.  “What do you mean what happened?  I found him, I talked to him, I left.  Are you questioning my capacity to complete such a simple task?”  He floated easily, overly buoyant in the abnormally salty fluid, glaring his challenge at her.  “Why do you ask?” 

“Because a few microts ago you looked like you were about to cry, and I’ve never seen that happen before.”  Aeryn turned away and lifted herself out of the pool, leaving the hynerian to duck under the water where he could hide the evidence of his compassion. 


* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *

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