Child Of The Night - Chapter 17
Aeryn watched John out of the corner of his eye as he poked listlessly at his meal. He had been eating
anything they put in front of him for nearly twenty solar days, and she had heard his stomach growling when
they had been working in the access shaft earlier, so she was having difficulty figuring out why he was not
eating. He looked more dispirited than he had during any of the preceding sixty solar days, despite the fact
that he was almost back to normal with the exception of some large gaps in his long-term memory.
His progress over the last six ten-days had been almost miraculous. He could perform most of the repairs he
used to know how to do, and the module was familiar territory again. They had taken him on a tour of Moya’s
lesser-used spaces, and although he did not remember many of the things that had occurred in each of the
chambers, he had recognized and correctly identified each one. There had been none of his curious questions
for almost ten solar days, he had finally learned how to tie his boot laces, and the happy childlike demeanor
had been replaced by his usual humorous confidence, interspersed only occasionally with the now familiar
outbursts of frustration. The violent explosions of anger had disappeared completely after his rampage in the
hangar bay, and he hadn’t kicked even a single DRD since that day … although there had been a few close
calls that had sent one or more of the drones diving into maintenance spaces for cover.
He was, in most respects, John Crichton again.
But tonight he looked confused and disoriented, shoving the alien delicacies around on his plate, and even
going so far as to shake his head when D’Argo offered him some more raslak.
“Do you want something else?” Aeryn asked. The conversation on the other side of John continued without
interruption but at a lower volume, a sign that the others were listening for his answer.
“Hunh? No, this is fine Aeryn. Thanks.” He speared some melvak beans, gazed at them for several microts,
then let his utensil drop and stared off into space. He finally turned to look at her, the familiar look of confusion
back in place for the first time in tens of days. “Does something called T-bird mean anything to you?” When
she shook her head, he went back to poking at his food, his chin resting on his free hand.
“John” -- D’Argo waited until he had Crichton’s attention -- “I don’t know if it is the same object, but you once
described some sort of ground transportation that you used to own. You took a lot of pride in it, and liked to
work on the engine. I think you called it a Dee Bird.”
“Yes! That’s it!” John struck his forehead with the palm of his hand. “How could I not remember it? Blue
sixty-two T-bird, rag top! And before that there was a pickup DK and I owned together, only we totalled it and
the insurance wasn’t right so the company wouldn’t pay up.” He was on his feet and striding excitedly across
the chamber. All chatter had stopped; everyone was watching the energized figure. “I remember! The bike I
trashed when I dislocated my shoulder, I remember what it was now. And that corridor outside the ion
backwash chamber, that’s where I cut through to Quarters that time Moya got stuck between dimensions.” His
voice was climbing as the memories came back to him.
“I’ve got it!” He turned to Aeryn with excitement, “I’ve got it, Aeryn! It’s all there! Everything is there! All of it.
I remember first grade, and playing in the brook, graduating from college, my first driving lesson. It’s all there.
Star Trek, Star Wars, Tom Swift, Milton, Shakespeare, Looney Tunes, pancakes on the weekends, mowing the
lawn, everything! It’s all breaking loose. Everything!”
He put a hand to his head and started to look off balance. His eyes crossed and his next words were a slurred
mumble. “Whoa, that’s a rush. Cranial overload. Someone call 9-1-1.”
“John?” Aeryn called, alarmed at the increasingly disjointed comments.
He staggered and she moved fast, catching him as he toppled. Aeryn struggled to keep them both from hitting
the floor, overwhelmed by his slack weight, and then D’Argo and Chiana were suddenly there, lowering him to
lie on his back. Crichton was half-conscious, closed eyes twitching madly under their lids. His breathing
became erratic, transformed into a fast, rough cadence by the barrage of memories being dumped on him all at
It got worse. His breath caught in his throat, painful sounding shriekings making their way out past spasming
muscles, and he began to jerk, defying all attempts to hold him still.
“He’s having a seizure,” called Jool, moving around the table to join them. “He may be going into shock.”
“What do we do? How do we get this to stop?” D’Argo asked. He was fighting to hold Crichton’s shoulders still,
concentrating on preventing John from hitting his head on the floor.
“Do I look like a medician to you? I don’t know. I have never seen this sort of mentally induced reaction
The seizure increased in severity, goading the helpless body into a wild frenzy of movement all too reminiscent
of the first days at the delvian colony when every touch set off the uncontrollable twitching reactions. Aeryn slid
an arm around his neck and carefully snugged it up under his chin, then clasped his head against her body,
stilling the wild motions in the only manner she could think of that would not choke or injure him.
“John, fight it,” she said. “I know it’s a lot to cope with, but you’ve been through much worse. Fight it.”
Whether it was a coincidence of timing or an unparalleled example of self-control on John’s part, the exhortation
seemed to work. Crichton stopped breathing, arched back into their combined grip for nearly ten microts, and
then sagged into the multi-person embrace and began breathing normally. Whatever had caused the
excessive physical reaction was over.
They waited through nearly forty microts of motionless silence. D’Argo was the first one to give in to his
concern. “John, open your eyes and look at us. Tell us you’re all right.”
“They never warned us about anything like this,” Rygel said. The hynerian was hovering above the group
huddled together on the floor, veering from side to side in an attempt to get a better view of Crichton. “Those
blue-assed lunatics did not mention that he might keel over like a stun-shot flibisk and nearly die.”
Jool, the intellectual, unleashed a wild punch at the airborne Dominar. She missed by no less than half a
motra. “Shut up, you foul-smelling slug! Crichton is not dying. That was a seizure from the shock, nothing
more. Give him a few microts.”
As if on cue, John opened his eyes and grinned weakly at the ring of worried faces. “That was a trip and a
half. I’m better now. Let me sit up.”
They helped him into a sitting position, staying close in case it happened again.
“That’s incredible. Talk about your major data dump. Everything is there; I just have to remember how to use it
again.” He turned toward Aeryn with a look of near ecstasy, the excited grin serving to accentuate his pallor
and shaking hands. “Sneakers! Those were white sneakers I was trying to learn how to tie. And it was my
Mom … she was behind … it was … my Mom died. She’s dead.”
He staggered to his feet, cheerfully accepting their help, still distracted by his new load of information. He
looked around him, seeming to find more memories in the corners and shadows of the Center Chamber,
locating all the information that they had worked so hard to shield him from until it was necessary to remember.
The return of his store of unpleasant memories did not check his excitement.
“Larraq and Hassan. And the Chair. You were avoiding those, weren’t you?”
Aeryn nodded silently.
“And Scorpius.” He put his hand to his head, pressing hard against his skull as though he was having head
pains. “Some of what I was remembering wasn’t Scorpius; it was Harvey. Oh crap.”
“John?” Aeryn reached for him, concerned by the depression in his voice.
“I forgot Zhaan entirely,” he said, explaining his mild outburst. “How could I have been around the delvians and
not remember Zhaan? And I forgot the Command Carrier.”
“We knew you would remember soon enough, John,” D’Argo said, explaining their decision to avoid certain
topics. “We thought you had enough to cope with already without adding those things on top.”
Crichton sat down slowly, propped one elbow on the table and rubbed his skull. “Man, there is so much crap in
there. Up until a couple hundred microts ago, I thought I had recovered most of my memories. It wasn’t more
than a fraction of what was heaped in there. Who the heck put all this trash inside my head?” He smiled back
at the grins around him, and went on rubbing his head. “Believe it or not, I have the Grand Canyon of all
Aeryn stepped behind him and rubbed his neck at the base of his skull, driving her thumbs into the tense
muscles there. “I have some zeccan leaf in my quarters.”
“Thanks, but no. It’s easing a bit already. It’s nothing more than the aftermath of having the Library of
Congress dropped on my head. Just keep rubbing my neck. That feels fan--” John broke off into a series of
coughing gulps that sounded as though he was about to be sick.
“John! Are you all right?” D’Argo was out of his seat and moving toward him before Aeryn realized there was a
problem occurring in front of her.
“What’s wrong?” Everyone was on their feet, looking and sounding increasingly alarmed. Aeryn moved to
where she could kneel beside him and discovered a bleak panicked stare fixed in place on a face that had
gone white. “What is it?”
His whole body began shaking uncontrollably. “I --”
He looked around at the concerned faces, mouth opening and closing several times without any sound
emerging. John reached up and wiped away the first hint of tears, rubbing his eyes to work away any moisture
before it could get loose. Pushing himself unsteadily to his feet, he backed away from them as though he were
afraid of his friends. Aeryn rose and started after him, reaching for him in concern, forced to accelerate as he
picked up speed, fleeing before her advance.
“John, let us help …” Aeryn bolted forward, trying to catch him as he tripped and went over backward. He hit
hard before she could break his fall. His head snapped back and bounced off the floor, accompanied by a
crack that promised a severe headache within an arn or two. John’s eyes seemed to cross for a microt, then
refocused on Aeryn, who was approaching him. He scrabbled back away from her on his hands and feet until
he ran into the wall. Each attempt by his friends to calm him only seemed to add more fuel to his wild,
“No, no, no.” The syllable poured out of him repetitively.
His hands came up protectively, slapping at her when she tried to help him. Aeryn backed away, giving him the
time and space he seemed to need to deal with whatever emerging memory had possessed him. She began to
straighten up and ran into D’Argo and Chiana, who were hanging over her, intent on helping John as well.
“John,” she called to him.
He kept his eyes tightly shut, hands held blindly in front of him to fend off anyone who tried to approach.
“John! Look at me.”
He opened his eyes and lowered the shaking hands.
Her single word order helped. The hands dropped to a less defensive spot near his knees and he focused on
her for the first time since his mad scramble across the floor.
“Think about everything we’ve been through together … all of us.” She raised her eyebrows, waiting for a
response. He nodded. “You know you can trust us.”
He began shaking his head, but the motion didn’t seem to be directed at them or an answer to her statement. It
resembled an oversized reflexive twitch or a refusal to accept some portion of an unseen harsh reality.
“Yes. You have to trust us and tell us what just happened,” she insisted. “You have to. Whatever just
happened, you know you are not going to be able to get through this on your own.”
He lowered his head into his hands and sat huddled against the wall. Aeryn moved forward slowly and carefully
until she was kneeling alongside him, waiting for some sort of sign to indicate whether he would allow himself to
be touched. The other four members of the crew waited in a tense huddle, anxious to come closer, but
prudently staying further away from John until she got him under control.
“Can you tell us?” she asked.
He shook his head.
“I’m going to touch you,” she warned him.
Muscles leapt and quivered, small snarls of movement rippling beneath his skin, but aside from that migrating
evidence of his tension, John did not move. He froze in place and waited. Aeryn edged closer and began the
slow massage at the base of his skull that had always relaxed him, the two of them hanging in a suspended
world for several long microts until much of the tension suddenly drained out of John and he sagged forward,
leaning his head more heavily into his hands.
“How does your head feel? The outside, I mean, from hitting it on the floor?”
“It’s all right.” His voice was muffled by his hands.
Aeryn looked up at the others and nodded. They moved forward until they were all gathered around him, and
then each person made contact. Just a single touch, one lightly placed hand each until they were all holding
the traumatized human. Aeryn continued to rub the back of his neck throughout the process, both in an
attempt to keep him relaxed and also to gauge his level of tension.
D’Argo tried again, seeking an explanation for Crichton’s behavior. “What just happened, John? What did you
John refused to answer, resorting to a vigorous shake of his head to convey his unwillingness to confide in
“Crichton, there isn’t anything you can’t tell us. We all saw what happened,” Jool said, adding her urging to the
swelling demand that he confess.
“Old Man,” prodded Chiana. “Come on, Old Man.”
“John.” Aeryn stopped her massage and slid a hand past his shoulder to pull his chin up. She forced him to
raise his head to look at them. “Meylan warned you that there might be something else. Something you would
not be able to cope with on your own. You have to tell us. Now.”
He shook his head.
“You promised me.”
He shook it again, looking just as confused and uncertain as he had in the earliest days of his recovery.
“You promised me you would tell me when something scared you. You promised.”
He looked around at the concerned faces, his face pale and strained, and started to shake again. “You all saw
what … what they … what happened.” His voice was little more than a whisper. Five voices agreed. “But that
was the first day they did … that to … me and … and they …” He fumbled to a stop.
“Oh Hezmana, John,” D’Argo breathed out quietly, moving closer to grip his friend’s arm tightly. “They had you
six solar days. How many?”
“Four. You got there on the fourth day that they did that to me.”
“How bad?” Aeryn asked. “How bad?” she repeated with more force when there was no response, using her
tone of voice to insist that he answer. “How bad was it, John? You have got to tell us.”
“Worse. A lot worse.”
* * * * *
It was early morning by Moya’s cycle of day and night when they finally pulled several layers of thermal covers
over Crichton and left his chamber. The night had been one of blurted bits of recall, hesitation, anger, and
coldly unemotional descriptions. He had swung between denial and breakdown more times than Aeryn cared to
count, but in the end he had finally related most of what had been done to him during the time that everyone
had always assumed had not involved any torture. The mental block he had put up around the missing three
days had been complete, so thorough that not even Aeryn or Meylan had caught the smallest inkling of what he
had been hiding. But the barricade had been swept aside in the rush of his returning recall, just as Meylan had
feared, inundating John with even the smallest details of the missing three-day ordeal. Selective memory of
certain portions had not been an option once the barriers had dissolved; the entire mass of memory had
tumbled out all at once, very nearly exceeding his ability to cope.
The first five hundred microts after his initial confession had been deceptively peaceful. John had stopped
shaking, gotten quietly to his feet, and said that he felt like going to his cell to get some sleep. Waving away
the concern of his friends, he had allowed only Aeryn to accompany him on his unnaturally calm walk through
the tiers to Quarters.
“Talk to me,” she had said as they walked through the open doors.
She had been ready for tears, for a flood of untranslatable English, possibly a sullen retreat into a corner to
work it out on his own, or even an emotion-driven bout of vomiting. What she had not been ready for was the
wild, insanely out-of-control explosion of violence. Screaming profanity at the top of his lungs, throwing
whatever he could lay his hands on, he had poured every bit of available energy into a display of unparalleled
destruction. Even after several arns of everyone pitching in to clean up, his quarters remained a shambles.
Only D’Argo’s on-the-run arrival had prevented John from hurting himself or destroying some of his most valued
possessions. Together, with Chiana diving in to lend her slender weight to the melee, they had wrestled him to
the floor and pinned him there until he calmed down.
After letting him up, it had taken two solid arns of hammering away at him to get John to offer up the first
description of what had been done to him. It might have been easier to share the experience in a Meeting than
to sit across from him and listen to what he had endured, alone and desperately afraid that he would break and
cause the deaths of his friends. In the Meeting, they had been able to support him when he needed it most.
This time John had sat rigid and quivering in the middle of his bed, and had not allowed anyone, not even
Aeryn, to touch him until the final, whispered description was offered up. Only then would he let her sit beside
him, put her arms around him, and try in vain to make up for what he had suffered at the hands of his captors.
One reluctant word at a time, they had learned that the last day had been the only one when he’d had to
endure anything above Kelvo Eleven. But the sessions prior to that had been more brutal in length and in the
tricks the scarrans had delighted in playing on him; in the mental despair as he felt his intellect being
irreparably damaged, control slipping away, the ability to resist torn from him one scream at a time. There were
almost certainly details that he was holding back, but by the time he allowed Aeryn to tilt him sideways into the
pillows and cover him with a thermal sheet, it was obvious they had pushed John as far as he was willing to go.
Aeryn looked back to where Chiana sat next to him. The nebari had insisted on staying with him while he slept,
concerned about nightmares. John was already twitching in his sleep, and she suspected that Chiana was
right, that there would be shouts and screams in the night from his chamber for many solar days to come. Jool
was in the medical chamber preparing a sedative in case they needed to put him to sleep, but they had all
talked it over briefly and agreed that his subconscious needed to cope with the freshly recovered memories
before his recovery would be complete. The sleep-shot would be a last resort. They would all have to cope
with John’s screams in the night if they wanted him back, fully recovered and as he was before the torture.
D’Argo stopped beside her, similarly looking back into the darkened cell. “How could we have missed this? I
was blind not to realize that they would not have left him alone during those days,” he said, accusing himself for
Aeryn shook her head. “We were focused on the things we already knew about. Those parts seemed so
hideous, I don’t know if we ever would have gone searching for even more.”
“Why is it always John who seems to suffer these things?” D’Argo continued mournfully.
“This time it’s because he’s the one who could survive. Any one of the rest of us would be dead and it would
not be a problem.”
* * * * *
John heard Aeryn taking over for Chiana, and waited until the doors closed before rolling over to look at her.
The skin on his face was tight where his tears had dried, but for the first time in a very long time, he did not
care that he had been crying in front of the others.
“I’m sorry,” he said.
Aeryn turned in surprise. “Sorry? Sorry for what?” She sat down next to him and rubbed his arm through the
multiple layers of covers. “You didn’t do anything wrong.”
“I just feel like … I don’t know. Like I didn’t measure up somehow, like I’m being weak.” He was tired of having
to deal with aftermath of his capture. When his memory had returned earlier that evening, accompanied by a
skull-splitting headache, he had thought it was over. There had been a brief, two-hundred microt interval when
he had believed he was ‘well’ at last, only to discover that a daunting distance remained to be traveled before
he could claim that prize. More than anything else in the universe, he wanted the memories and the emotions
to simply go away so he could resume his life. And he wanted it to happen immediately, not over a span of
dozens of days.
“Did not measure up,” Aeryn was repeating slowly. She gathered his hand from where it lay on the covers and
examined it front and back. He did not resist when she curled the fingers into a loose fist, waiting with the first
hint of humor to see what was going to happen next. Aeryn guided it up toward his head and began to bang
him in the forehead with his own knuckles. “Are you out of your mind?” she asked in time with the light blows.
“John, do you realize that no one else has ever survived what happened to you?” When he shook his head
she continued, describing the solution that the mercenaries had so strongly recommended. “You were not
supposed to come back from that. Not ever.”
John turned around without sitting up and wriggled forward until his head and shoulders lay in Aeryn’s lap, in
the familiar position that had lent him so much security and peace during his first days out of the pool in the
delvian sanctuary. She pulled him close, welcoming him into her embrace, and tugged the covers over his
“No one else survived it?”
“Not that they know of. Their captain said they had tried a number of different medical facilities, and that no
one had ever recovered. No one except you.”
The unpleasant sting of impending tears prevented him from answering for several microts. John stared into
the half-dark of his quarters and concentrated on the feel of Aeryn’s body holding him in place, trying to banish
the need to cry.
“What are you thinking?” she asked. Aeryn bent over him and rested her chin on his shoulder, peering down at
his evading gaze.
“I don’t feel like I survived. I feel like …” The word did not exist for how miserable he felt at that moment.
Debased, used, torn to pieces, the invisible scars hindering his return to what he had come to consider a
normal life, new horrors assaulting him at the very moment when he had thought the final hurdle had been
cleared. “I’m tired, Aeryn. I’m tired of feeling like this. I want my life back.”
“Give it time, John. You will. You’re almost there.”
He shook his head, turned into her leg so she could not see that he was crying, and let the depression swallow
“No person should have to go through what you have. Time and patience, John.” Her fingers moved slowly
through his hair, venturing down his skull from time to time to rub beneath his ears, giving him something to
hang on to for a few arns.
“Aeryn, don’t leave me.”
“I won’t. I’ll be here.”
* * * * *
It’s the second day they’ve treated him to this particular variation, and his throat is raw after only the first kelvo
level; he doesn’t know how his lungs and vocal cords are going to last through the next nine. They’ve wired him
up as usual, but they’re firing the entire energy surge into one lead at a time, treating each pinpoint in his body
to the full power of the machine.
A single point on his spine bursts into screeching alarm, the pain spreading out until his entire back is rippling
with muscle spasms, and his lungs burn as he sings out his aria of suffering. It stops and he feels the warm
metal of the table reaching to connect with him as he sags back. The cutting pressure of the straps fades.
Panting, sucking in overheated air and feeling the burning of dry, raw tissue in his throat as his body demands
more oxygen in return for making the noises that still reverberate in the hot air.
He hears the snick of the button being pressed and has a nano-microt to anticipate before a point beneath his
left ear explodes, a starburst of energy driving into his ear and spreading through his brain. They don’t release
him from the grasp of the machine this time; they add an electrode on his right foot and the route between the
two opens up, splitting him from end to end, a fissioning of his body down the middle, right through his heart,
laying him open on the warm metal.
Release him from the pain, then hit him again with Kelvo Two. Hit him again, and again, and again, again,
again, again, again …
“John, wake up!”
Hands yanked him out of his nightmare: kind hands, strong but gentle hands pulling him away from the
memories, pulling him back into his own chamber, his own home, the place where he was safe and he
belonged. He sat up, gasping for breath, cool, clean air flowing into lungs that wanted a little more air, but were
not burning from excessive demand. A cold, wet towel was passed over his face several times, wiping away the
streams of sweat, and he woke the rest of the way, staring at Aeryn’s dimly lit face as she helped him break free
of the visions.
“How many times was that?” His voice rasped through a throat that ached from unvoiced screams. It was
merely sore, not stripped raw.
“That was your second tonight. Do you want to keep going?” She passed the towel over his hair a few times,
and then wrapped the coolness around the back of his neck.
He looked around his quarters, thought about letting Jool drug him into insensibility for the third night in a row,
and shook his head. “One more, then I’ll give up. I have to work through these somehow.” He looked at
Aeryn’s gaunt face, and knew that she was getting as little sleep as he was these days. “Is that all right with
you? Can you stand one more?”
“I can if you can.” She kissed him lightly, rubbed his damp hair and pulled the thermal cover over him when he
lay back down. “Remember that I’m right here, I’ll be here when you need me.”
He nodded and let his exhaustion pull him back into captivity.
* * * * *
He tries to lick his lips, but his mouth’s dry, parched from the screaming and the heat. He explores his upper lip
and finds the expected blood there, remnants of a nosebleed. But it is crusted and dry, no relief for a mouth
where no moisture remains. Joints aching from laying flat on the table for so many arns, and the heat is
beyond oppressive, making his thirst a small additional torture that lies in wait to move in whenever the larger
agonies are no longer present. Normally he doesn’t have a chance to notice such subtleties, but they’ve left
him lying here for what seemed like arns without pushing the button, and all but the residual itching sensation
have died away. They are standing around, wandering in and out, and from time to time one of them turns the
dial with its quiet snickety clicks, just to see how high he’ll jump. This is their new game. See how violent a
reaction they can get out of him using nothing more than the promise of agony.
Body torn apart by the power of a star before he has a chance to take in a breath, every neuron exposed and
jerked to full burning, explosive force, exceeding the capacity of every individual nerve ending. He hadn’t heard
that one approaching the machine. They win this round. They win every round.
They release the button, but it’s too much. His body’s convulsing, a familiar treat. Vomiting and bleeding at the
same time, thick coppery flood trying to make its way down the back of his throat meets the rush of acid on its
way up and out. He doesn’t mind puking with pain. At least this way they will stop long enough to make sure
he doesn’t choke. He’ll take the break no matter how he gets it.
Lay back panting in the brief respite. What was the score on that last one? Kelvo Eight? Nine? Might have
been a Ten. Each level has its own flavor. He knows each one all too well now. This tasted like a nine:
unbearable with the sting of permanent neural damage, stopping short of the insanity that strips away his ability
Bellowing in his ear. They ask the question afterward instead of before so there’s no warning. Wouldn’t want
to spoil the game by giving him notice of what is about to follow.
Your mother’s a space heater. Fucking oversized iguanas.
It’s false bravado. They turn the dial and he nearly shits himself, muscles trying to release in conditioned
panic. Lizard laughter, buckets of water, always at least one down his throat if they can catch him inhaling.
Coughing, spitting up water mixed with blood, trying to catch some on the way out to ease his parched mouth.
Bastard over there twisting the dial non-stop, watching the twitches of anticipation. Breath catching in his chest
as he waits, wondering when they’ll hit him again. Bam. Lunge against the straps, feel the yanking cut digging
into his flesh as he tries to escape from the single pinpoint they had ignited at the base of his spine. All the
power into a single lead this time. Good projection, good sound ringing off the walls, eager faces watching as
he screams himself into insensibility. Flop back like a beached fish, crying like a baby. Finding dozens of
metaphors for himself, he’s everything except a man.
Jesus, just about jumped off the table that time, and the bastard didn’t even push the frelling button … snickety
Scream, scream, scream. Let it all out. They get him good this time. Scream again, they’ve added a second
lead, and a third, and a fourth, and a fifth, and a sixth … Long blossoming explosion of pain as they increase
the number of sources until they’ve got every electrode running at full blast. Scream. It won’t help but it’s
something to do while he prays for it to end.
“CRICHTON!! Wake up.”
Slender hands, not harsh clawed ones, grab his wrists; the slim ones cannot control him as he thrashes and
slaps at the grasping fingers.
“Chiana.” He grabbed at her wrists to stop himself from hitting her. Sweat was streaming from his temples back
into his hair and the bed covers were soaked. He had to clear his throat before he could try again. He had
been screaming in real life this time. “Sorry, Chi. Did I hit you?”
“No, I’m learning how to stay out of the way. That’s three. Time to give up for the night and get some sleep.”
John swung his legs over the side of the bed and sat quivering for several microts, waiting for the aftermath of
his nightmare to drain away.
“What day was that?” Chiana asked from next to his shoulder, light fingers resting on his thigh as a tactile
He knew she was trying to draw him back, giving him something in this world to focus on even if it was just a
question that had to be answered. They were all getting too good at knowing what would help him cast off the
residual, body-shaking images. His subconscious had been operating in overdrive for more than twelve nights
without showing any sign that it was ever going to let up. He tried to imagine what it would mean if he had to
spend the rest of his life like this … and couldn’t. He would rather die first.
“Crichton?” Chiana asked, reminding him that there was a question to be answered.
“Second day, I think. Hardly matters.” He looked at her out of the corners of his eyes, noting the fatigue that
had infected everyone aboard Moya. “Screaming pretty good, was I?”
“You made a noise or two. Come on, let’s get you some sleep.” She reached for the injector that was beside
his bed every night.
* * * * *
“What is your name?”
Same question, different agony. Your mother is a komodo dragon.
“What is your name?”
Your daddy’s a crocodile handbag. Not very funny, but it’s all he has left. Quiet snickety click and he stops
breathing out of nothing more than anticipation of what lies in wait for him. Big, brave astronaut with an
attitude. He can’t control even the most basic functions of his body when they make the knob go click. Make a
noise, sphincters release.
Click, slam, hit that button. Caught him with no air, gagging as he tries to scream and inhale at the same time,
no longer an unfamiliar trick. Mucus running, tears streaming, finally get some air in …
“D’Argo? Oh God, D’Argo. How many is that?”
“Enough.” He heard the quiet hiss of the injector and he dove into the darkness, looking for the oblivion that
was so similar to the quiet dreaming place he had voluntarily left behind. His last conscious thought was that he
wished he had stayed there.
* * * * *
End of the day, he can tell because they’re taking him to where they hose him off before they toss him into his
cell. Today he’s a filthy mess, worse than usual and they have to scrub him to remove some of the blood and
excrement, and then dump buckets of ice-cold water over him. Nice change from the heat. Pick him up
because he hasn’t been able to walk since the first day they put him on the table, drag him down the corridor to
his cell. Must get his beauty sleep so they can play with him again tomorrow. Drag him unresisting into his cell,
only it’s full of scarrans, a smelter’s blast of heat as they carry him through the door and he’s not back in his
cell. It’s a trick and the table is in front of him, and they’re lifting him into place again, laughing as he screams
and tries to fight back.
“Yes. I’m here. You’re all right, John.”
“You’re all right. That’s the first tonight.”
* * * * *
“What is your name?”
Fuck you and your little dog Toto, too.
But he doesn’t say it aloud because he’s too afraid they’ll come up with a new idea, something worse than what
they’ve done to him so far. So he huddles inside himself, trying to clutch some small piece of bravado around
him, but so scared of what they’ll do next that he has to fight to keep from puking while they hook him up.
Dragged out of his cell in the middle of the night; the night crew wants to play. It barely matters. They rarely let
him sleep more than an arn or two anyway.
He can’t hold out much longer. In the rare moments when he gets to think of something other than the pain
and not giving in to their question, it’s the single thought that occupies his mind. He can’t do this much longer.
He’ll give in and then he’ll give them Aeryn and the others.
Aeryn. He remembers dark hair swinging to one side, gray eyes alight with something more than humor,
something that weakens his knees and simultaneously turns his stomach and brain to jelly. He clutches that
image to him, tries to wrap himself in it like a shield, and waits, vowing to hang on just a little longer. For
Time’s a wasting, they get right to the point without all those boring levels in between. There is supposed to be
something after the scream. A breath, an inhale, more air, something. There isn’t. Choking, lungs burning,
and his chest is paralyzed. They’re frantic, they’ve gone too far. His damaged, exhausted body can’t cope any
longer. The world fades into black, there still isn’t any breathing going on and he’s happy because it’s finally
over. Since he’s dying before they could get him to talk, Aeryn will be safe. He greets death cheerfully,
incapable of sobbing with relief.
World comes back in an orange haze of agony. They’ve tubed him to make sure he keeps breathing, but of
course that means no screams. Everyone knows the fun is in the screams. They pull the airway out, punching
him in the stomach to get the exhalation they need to blow the tube loose. It’s gone and he’s alive and
breathing. That’s too bad. Tears streaming because it’s not over after all, and the knob is going snickety click
Less is more. Every muscle in his body releases, except his stomach, which heaves. Can a human scream and
vomit at the same time? Yes. Scream, gag, scream, gag, scream, scream, scream.
“Grab him! Grab him!”
They’re holding him again, dragging him back for more. Defiance is all he has left. He throws what little
remaining energy he can produce into fighting back. Muscles have long since ceased to function correctly, but
he can try.
“Look out, he bites.”
No rules. Bite, kick, scratch, try to find scarran mivonks with his knee. If he’s lucky, maybe they’ll kill him by
“Chiana, get in there and inject him.”
“Frell you, D’Argo. You want him injected, you get past those fists and inject him yourself.”
“Frell the injector.”
D’Argo, Chiana, the firm practiced grasp that he recognizes as Aeryn’s. Realization that portions of this
nightmare are his real life intruding on his dreams comes too late.
Hiss, snapping sting against his neck, and he’s gone. No dark visions, no scarrans, no friends, no pain, no
comfort, no waking, no sleep … just gone.
* * * * *
“Here he comes, get ready. John?”
Why does sound always come back first, he wondered lazily. He was warm and comfortable, floating, secure,
happy in the whole-body pervading grip of something that reminded him of safety and security.
He opened his eyes to the sight of Aeryn crouched over him, looking more anxious than he had seen her at any
time since they had met. “Hey.” The multi-purpose, one-size-fits-all greeting that worked even when he could
not remember what had happened. They were in the sluice trough, and he was naked except for a towel
sarong wrapped around his waist to preserve some vestige of modesty. Undressed and wet was becoming a
way of life.
She ran her hand gently along his cheek, her gaze burrowing deep into his stare, seeking something there.
“How are you feeling?”
“Wet.” That earned him a more relaxed smile.
“That will do. You’re back with us?”
“Yeah. Bad one, huh?”
She nodded. There was splashing and dripping, and he was alone with Aeryn. He glanced over his shoulder in
time to see the others headed out the door, leaving the two of them alone in the large chamber.
“How bad?” he asked, seeking a reason for waking up in the sluice trough. One choice was that they had been
trying to reproduce the warm, floating sensation that the delvians had used. The other choice was not so
attractive. “I … uh … what did I …?”
“You vomited and you were dripping with sweat. We needed to clean you off and decided not to wait until you
regained consciousness,” she explained. “We couldn’t get near you, so D’Argo finally had to tongue you. You
haven’t been out long.”
“Frell. I’m sorry.”
Aeryn moved around to crouch in front of him. She stared unwaveringly into his eyes. “Listen to me.”
He dropped his eyes, unable to face her so directly when his friends had been forced to resort to such extreme
measures to compensate for his nightmares.
“LISTEN to me,” she insisted, placing one hand under his chin to tilt his head upward. “You got caught
because you were covering for us as we retreated. This never would have happened if you had not
volunteered to bring up the rear.” Aeryn settled her weight slowly onto his thighs, sitting on his legs facing him.
“If it had not been you, it would have been one of us who got captured instead.”
“Maybe --” he started to argue, intending to say that perhaps Aeryn or D’Argo would have been better at
holding off the scarrans, and would not have managed to get themselves captured.
Aeryn cut him off before he could get beyond the first word. “No. Be quiet and listen to me, John. I was
keeping an eye on you right up until the last few microts. You did everything right. There weren’t any mistakes
or flaws in what you were doing. There were simply too many of them, and we let you fall too far behind. If it’s
anyone’s fault that you got taken prisoner, it’s mine.”
“No. You didn’t --”
Aeryn clapped one wet hand across his mouth. It seemed that she had no intention of letting him argue with
her. “No blame, no fault. Not yours, not mine. It just happened. Right?”
He nodded, willing to concede that part.
“Listen carefully. If it had been any one of the rest of us who was captured, we would have died from what they
put you through. I told you that before, John, and now you have to start believing it.”
“I do believe it.”
“No, you do not. Not deep inside where it counts. You have to learn to accept that what happened to you
happened because you are strong, not because you are weak. This is no different than an especially severe
case of battle stress.”
“We call it post traumatic stress disorder,” he tried to interrupt.
Aeryn placed a single finger on his lips this time, stilling him so she could continue. “Accept that you have been
through the worst that Cholak’s realm has to offer, and that you not only have the strength to survive but also
to give up your dreaming place and come back to us. Accept that down deep inside where you are still denying
He watched her for several microts, finally returning the direct stare, using the time to compare her gentle
accusations with the way he felt. There was a need, an overwhelming desire, to deny it, to argue with her and
say that she was wrong. But deep inside in that place that Aeryn was talking about, halfway between the ache
in his chest that rarely eased and the permanent snarl that had taken over his stomach, was the self-loathing
that she was describing. It was hurt and fear and need and doubt, all tangled into a complex emotion that
insisted he was not worthy of Aeryn or the life that had been given back to him through the combined efforts of
his friends and the delvians.
“Okay. I’ll try.” It was easier to look down at the slow surge of the water swirling around their bodies than to
face that intent gray-eyed gaze.
“That was not very convincing.” Aeryn cocked her head to one side so she could duck down far enough to look
at his lowered face. “Promise. Promise me you’ll work at believing it.”
“I promise.” It came out in something quieter than a whisper, forced out past the tight spot in his throat.
“John --” She waited until he looked up at her again. “I love you. I would go through this every solar day of
every cycle if that’s what it took to have you back.”
He had to settle for a nod to answer her, unable to speak because of the rapidly expanding lump in his throat
that was threatening to choke more than his voice.
“I love you,” she repeated in a whisper.
“I love you, Aeryn.”
She reached past him and grabbed a wash ball off the edge of the trough. “Here, finish washing yourself, then
we’re going to put you to sleep for a while. You haven’t had more than an arn or two over the past three solar
days. Jool says she knows how to concoct a sedative that will knock you out for arns.” She slid off his legs and
waded to the edge of the trough, leaving him alone to finish washing and to consider her insistence that he stop
feeling guilty that he had lived.
* ~ * ~ * ~ * ~ *