(First posted December 23, 2004)
Rating:  R.  Please pay attention to the rating, gentle readers.  I did say ‘R’, and because it would give
something away, I am not going to tell you how the story earned its rating.  I will go so far as to warn you NOT to
go waltzing merrily into this story expecting to find smut-lite.  
Disclaimer:  The characters and universe of Farscape are not mine, never will be, and I’ve never made a profit
off any of my deranged scribblings.
Time Frame/Spoilers:  This story occurs roughly two cycles after Farscape:  Peacekeeper Wars, and contains
several massive spoilers for the mini-series.  
Test Driver:  PKLibrarian.  She rocks … but she won’t accept the “Betareader” honorific, so I will go on calling
her a much-valued Test Driver.    

Hope you enjoy it.

*  *  *  *  *

Sub-Commandant Miklo Braca stood rigidly at attention, waiting for the arriving spacecraft to settle to the
hangar floor.  He ignored the short-lived hurricane winds battering at his body and tearing at his clothes,
allowing himself the single concession of narrowing his eyes against the swirling tornados of dust and the
occasional scrap of wind-borne litter.  Behind him, two columns of heavily armed troopers copied their
commanding officer’s example and stood without so much as a flinch when the Lancer Class courier frigate
dropped the final two motras to the deck.  The landing was abrupt enough that if any of the uniformed
personnel had been tempted to speak, they might have called into question the pilot’s abilities, or whether there
was a pilot on board at all.  The frigate crashed to the floor to the tune of over-stressed support struts
screeching across reinforced hydrosteel plating, bounced once, and came to rest.  

“By Cholak,” a passing technician muttered, looking over her shoulder at the ship, “plenty of maintenance for
someone to do after that landing.”  

“Attend to your duties!” Braca ordered the woman.  “This area was posted as off-limits to all but essential

The tech snapped a salute, swerved toward a doorway that hadn’t been her destination a microt earlier, and
hurried out of sight.  In the middle of the hangar, the scream of the frigate’s engines faded to a growling mutter,
and then died away completely.  Five microts later the belly hatch opened and a ramp descended from within
the craft.  A lithe figure dressed in a swirling, long-skirted black overcoat and carrying a pulse rifle trotted down
half the length of the ramp, ducked under the protruding hatch doors, and jumped to the hangar floor, landing
lightly despite a motra and a half drop.  She approached at a fast purposeful walk, head down and turned
slightly to one side.   

“Officer Sun,” Braca greeted her.    

“I have not been a Peacekeeper officer in over six cycles.  You know that.”  She glanced at his rank emblems,
raised the one eyebrow visible to Braca, and added, “Sub-Commandant.  Congratulations on your promotion.”  

A smile flickered into life and was quashed almost immediately.  Hands locked firmly together behind the small
of his back, Braca offered a small nod.  “Thank you.  As for your title, I have been instructed to provide you full
rights and privileges in accordance with your former rank for as long as you are on board this vessel.  Until
such time as you either depart or my orders change, you are to be addressed as Peacekeeper Officer Sun.”

“That is very comforting,” she said with a careful intonation that implied neither pleasure nor sarcasm.  “Are
your men ready?”

“They have been briefed on what to expect and how to behave.  If any one of them resorts to lethal force, the
entire unit will be executed regardless of the outcome.”  He paused before continuing in a slower, more
cautious tone.  “We received a transmission when you entered the system.  The sergeant reported that two
men had been killed.”  

With her attention focused on reviewing the ranks of uniformed personnel, Aeryn’s answer was delivered in a
casual, almost absent-minded tone.  “The lieutenant and the pilot are dead, three others are injured.  He came
close to gaining control of the ship.  Your men need to be vigilant.  He is extremely dangerous.”  

Her inspection of the troops completed, Aeryn turned to look at the waiting ship.  It allowed Braca his first
glimpse of the left side of her face.  It was bruised from temple to chin, and her eye was ringed by the deep
reddish-purple of a still-developing black eye.  Whatever had struck her had been several times larger than a
fist, and had to have been moving with a great deal of force to cause the darkening damage.  

“He did that to you?” Braca asked, nodding toward her face.  “A rifle butt?”

“His forearm.”  She began walking toward the ship, this time with her head up, rifle perched comfortably on her
hip.  “Move!  I want to get this over with.”  

Braca motioned his men forward.  They reached the bottom of the ramp just as four Special Ops commandos
appeared from inside the frigate, escorting a fifth man.  John Crichton shuffled down the ramp in the center of
his small escort, kept on course by jabs from the muzzles of the rifles being wielded by the commandos.  In
addition to the guards, someone had gone to excessive lengths to make sure he couldn’t escape.  His ankles
were chained together, his hands were shackled behind his back, and he was wearing what appeared to be a
helmet with an opaque visor.  Braca looked at the headgear more closely, finally determining that it was
sensory-hood:  a device rarely used for extended periods of time, and only then to subdue the most violent of
prisoners.  Using several overlapping modes of interference transmissions, it had the capacity to block out all
sight and sound to the point that it bordered on sensory deprivation.  

Most individuals would have been thoroughly cowed by the combination of restraints Crichton was being forced
to endure.  But aside from his understandable difficulty navigating the ramp and the challenge of walking with
no more than eighteen denches of chain spanning the distance between his ankles, he showed no sign that
anything out of the ordinary was being done to him.  With his head up, his body moving in a relaxed manner,
and dressed in his customary black overcoat, he looked no different than he would if he were about to set off
on an aimless stroll about the ship.  

Braca came to a stop behind Aeryn’s shoulder.  From there he watched Crichton’s cautious negotiation of the
sloping ramp with interest.  “Sensory hood and a Nebari control collar?  Isn’t that overdoing the precautions,
Officer Sun?”

She snapped out an impatient explanation.  “He was wearing the wrist binders and the hood when he broke
free.  That time he only killed two men.  I’d say this is the bare minimum necessary to keep him under control
unless you have troops to spare.”

“You might have a point,” Braca said, sounding amused.  Aeryn swung around, scowling at the levity in his
voice, and his expression changed from indifference to caution in a split microt.  When he spoke again, there
was nothing jovial about his tone.  “Everything is ready in the detention level.  I suggest we do not delay.”

“The Eidelons?” she asked.  

“We made sure they would be attending to matters in the farthest sector of the ship.  There is no possibility that
they will sense what is occurring on the detention level.  We have made sure of that.”  

“Good.”  Aeryn returned to watching Crichton’s progress down the ramp.  He had reached the bottom and was
searching for the hangar floor with one foot.  The commandos had backed away from him, leaving it up to the
bound and sightless human to make his way down the eight-dench drop on his own.

“Are you quite certain this is how you wish to handle him?” Braca asked.  “My personnel have come up with
several possible alternatives.”

“Probability of success?” she asked.

“None as high as what you have proposed.”  

“Then we continue as planned.  Get him moving!” Aeryn ordered to the waiting troops, ending the

The platoon of guards from the Command Carrier took over from the commandos, moving in to first surround
Crichton, and then herding him toward the exit with jabs from the muzzles of their pulse rifles.  The four red-clad
figures watched warily until the transfer was complete and the prisoner had moved three motras away from the
ramp before lowering their weapons.  They went from fully alert to looking weary and dispirited in a matter of

“Get your injured to the Medical Sector,” Aeryn called to them.  “You did a good job.”  

“Not good enough.  Two dead,” the ranking sergeant said.  “We underestimated him.”  

“Most people do,” she said too quietly for the quartet to hear, and turned to follow Crichton and his minders.  
Ahead of her, Crichton stumbled, started to go down on his knees, and one of the guards reach for his elbow to
pull him upright.  “Don’t touch him!” she yelled and accelerated to a run.  

It was like watching a black tornado tear into bodies that were powerless to capture a whirlwind.  The guard’s
hand touched Crichton’s elbow, and the moment living flesh was detected, Crichton spun in that direction.  
Elbows and knees lashed out and the soldier went down, writhing in pain.  The guards moved closer, reached
to subdue the prisoner, and a microt later another man dropped, screaming over a shattered leg.  John’s head
rose with a snap, using the hard-surfaced sensory hood as a weapon.  A third Peacekeeper hit the floor without
so much as a whimper, his helmet rolling an erratic course away from his lifeless body.  A soldier tripped over a
comrade, stumbled into John, and his head became lodged between Crichton’s elbow and ribs without any
apparent movement on either person’s part.  There was a fast spin by the shackled and handcuffed prisoner, a
loud crack that reverberated throughout the hangar, and a second corpse was dropped to the floor.  

“Back away from him!  Don’t let him touch you!” Braca yelled while scrambling out of range.  

Soldiers scattered in all directions, seeking to escape the devastation.  A nightmarish, deadly bat-creature of
flapping leather surfaces and fast rustling movements somersaulted effortlessly to one side, using a method of
travel that didn’t depend on unchained ankles or freed hands.  It rolled to its feet, having crossed more than
two motras in the fast, fluttering movement, and spun in a circle.  The long skirts of his overcoat floated
outward, brushed against a retreating guard, and the hooded head turned in that direction.  

“MOVE!” Aeryn yelled at Crichton’s next target.  The soldier abandoned any vestige of martial dignity, turned
his back, and bolted across the hangar.  

He only just escaped.  John’s shoulder passed through the spot where the Peacekeeper’s midsection had been
just a split microt earlier, found only empty air, and then he tucked his head in against his chest, and hit the
floor rolling.  Even then, he didn’t end up sprawling across the metal deck plates when he came to a stop.  He
flipped over twice, surged up onto the balls of his feet, and then subsided onto his knees.  Barely twenty
microts after the first soldier had touched Crichton’s elbow, it was all over.  There were four bodies on the
floor -- two dead and two writhing in pain -- and Crichton was kneeling peacefully in the center of a ragged
circle of panting Peacekeepers, motionless now that he had been deprived of the clues that would allow him to
find his enemies.  

Aeryn and Braca exchanged glances, and then as one, straightened up and began to relax.  The surviving
members of the squad followed suit.  Braca motioned with his head, and the entire circle moved in a step:  
closer but not too close.  

“DON’T touch him!” Aeryn yelled at a young conscript who was reaching to help Crichton up.  “He is capable of
getting up on his own.  You are an idiot for not realizing that after what you just saw.  Leave.  Notify the Medical
technicians that there are wounded here.”

Abashed but relieved to have survived his foolishness, the soldier backed away with more care, wheeled, and
trotted from the hangar.  

“How do you get him to move?” Braca asked.  

Fumbling in a pocket for several microts, Aeryn produced a small communications device.  Thumbing a switch,
she spoke into it.  “Get up, John.”  

The hooded head snapped up, and then shook slowly from side to side.  “Come get me, Aeryn,” he said in the
blurred, indistinct syllables of a person who could not hear his own voice.  

“Get up or I’ll use the collar,” she said.  “You have three microts before I push the button.”    

This time Crichton rocked back onto his toes and rose effortlessly to his feet.

Aeryn issued a warning next.  “I am not close to you.  You can’t reach me.  The next time you try that, I’ll use the
collar before you can touch a single person.”  

“You are sick, Aeryn.  It is making you do things you don’t want to do.  Release me and I can get you help.  It
doesn’t have to be this way,” the eerily flat voice said.  

“Quarter turn to the right,” she ordered, ignoring his emotionless plea.  She waited while he pivoted.  “Now

The communications device was snapped off, robbing Crichton of even the small noises that might be picked
up through the transmitter, and was swapped for a different control unit.  This one was a gleaming golden-hued
cylinder that matched the control collar around John’s neck in appearance, and fit neatly into the palm of
Aeryn’s hand.  Once the exchange was made and she had both the pulse rifle and the control unit at the ready,
she jogged forward to take the lead.  Since it meant that her back was turned to him, it was the one position
where John might not expect to find her if he made another of his devastatingly violent bids to get loose.   

The remainder of the trip through the Command Carrier was conducted without any further trouble.  Aeryn
wasn’t called upon to use the Nebari manufactured control unit with its two round activator studs, and there
were no more near disasters involving body contact.  The guards, having learned their lesson from their
comrades’ misfortunes, were every bit as wary and alert as the Special Ops commandos had been while
escorting him the short distance down the courier ship’s ramp.  The only difficulty occurred when they had to
jam everyone into one of the level risers.  For that, Crichton was made to lie face down on the floor and two
guards knelt on his shoulders while another stood on the chain between his feet.  No chances were taken;
maximum weight was brought to bear without any sympathy for the pain they were causing.  

John merely grunted when the two guards dropped their full weight onto his back, and then continued his poorly
enunciated entreaties for Aeryn to let him go.  “You’re going to regret this some day, Aeryn.  I know what you
are trying to do.  You want me to hate you because then you won’t have to blame yourself.  It won’t work.”  

It went on long enough that Aeryn pulled out the communications unit, and ordered, “Stop talking or I’ll use the
collar.”  The rest of the ride and the subsequent journey through the corridors were conducted in silence.    

“Stop,” Aeryn eventually ordered into the communications unit.  John obediently came to a stop and waited.  
“Turn right.  Move forward.  Stop.  Don’t move.”  He followed each of her orders without balking.  

She looked around the room they had just entered, examining the preparations that had been made to her
specifications, and nodded several times.  “This is excellent.  Perfect.”  

“How do you propose to do this?” Braca asked.  Every bit of his attention was focused on Crichton, who was
shifting his weight slowly from one foot to the other as though he was becoming impatient.    

“Chains first, then the sensory hood, collar last.”  Aeryn backed away, rifle and control unit at the ready, and

Two guards moved in fast, and pressed the muzzles of their rifles against the sides of Crichton’s throat.  
Although he let out a short laugh that seemed to suggest their precautions would be futile if he chose to attack
them, he didn’t move.  The ankle chains were removed first, the wrist binders were released next, and everyone
backed away.  John stood obediently where Aeryn had ordered him to stop, making no effort to move except to
rub his chafed wrists.  After several microts, the flat, slightly nasal voice said, “It doesn’t matter what you’ve
done to me, Aeryn, and whatever you are doing now will be a waste of time.  I would never hurt you, and I
refuse to hate you.”  

“Bulldren,” she whispered even though he couldn’t hear her, and then raised her voice to the guards.  “Release
the hood, but let him take it off.”  

The helmet-like device was locked in place with an armored chinstrap.  In order to release it, someone would
have to stand next to Crichton and touch him -- an act that everyone in the room knew was potentially lethal.  In
the end, it was Braca who crossed the short distance to Crichton’s side and released the catch, the studied
carelessness of his movements betrayed only by the trembling of his fingers that forced him to try three times
before the chinstrap swung loose.  

“Braca,” John hissed before the officer could back away.  With the retaining strap released, the sensory-hood
was deactivated.  No longer prohibited from hearing his own voice, John’s intonation was both hushed and
chillingly malevolent.  “I can tell it’s you without looking.  You smell like fear, Braca.  Tell me, what is it like going
through life being afraid of every one of your superior officers?”

Dark eyes narrowed with defiance.  Braca took the helmet firmly in both hands and lifted it, staring directly into
John’s eyes once they were visible.  “I wouldn’t know,” he said, turned his back on Crichton, and walked away.  

John stretched, ran his hands through his hair several times, and then scratched at his scalp with his
fingernails.  “That thing itches.  I don’t recommend it for long periods of time.”  

Still not making any large or fast movements, he turned his head unerringly toward where Aeryn was standing
with her pulse rifle trained on his chest and the control mechanism for the collar in plain sight in her left hand.  
His eyes rested on her for a moment, then slid past to the bank of equipment arranged in the corner.  After
considering that for several microts, John looked toward the door, examined the walls, ceiling, and floor, and
then turned slowly so he faced the middle of the room.  There, placed so he would not see it when they first
took off the sensory hood, was the Aurora Chair, just the same as it had appeared on the Gammak Base.  The
entire room had been altered to look like the Gammak Base.  From the rough hewn, ceramic-stabilized walls, to
the uneven floor, to the slowly revolving exhaust fans behind the control equipment, every detail was a perfect
recreation of the room where he had first encountered the Aurora Chair.   

John let out a wild sounding laugh.  “If you think this trip down memory lane is going to make me change my
mind, you’re wrong.  Put down the weapons and let me get you some help.  This isn’t going to work, Aeryn.  You
can’t teach me to hate you.”  

“I think it will work.  Sit down.”  She held up the control unit to the collar.  “Sit down in the Chair, John.”  

“I …” he paused while he looked around at the array of guards, “don’t think so.”  

His first movement was so fast Aeryn barely had time to get her fingers on the activator studs.  He went straight
for Braca, and in the time it took her to press the circular metal pads, Crichton’s outstretched hands were
already touching the front of the Sub-Commandant’s uniform.  The guards, momentarily stunned by the speed
of the attack, hadn’t even moved yet.  The pulsing electronic wail of the control collar filled the room, and
Crichton staggered away from Braca, both hands scrabbling at the collar, searching for a release mechanism.  

Aeryn kept her fingers wrapped firmly around the control unit, the punishment continued, and John collapsed to
the floor, bucking, thrashing, and tearing futilely at the metal band around his neck.  The imposed convulsions
didn’t stop him though.  As he had in the hangar, he rolled over too fast for anyone to follow the motion, and
lashed out at the nearest guard with both feet.  If the kick had been delivered with anything resembling
coordination or even a fraction of the strength Crichton had shown earlier, there would have been another
dead Peacekeeper to add to the body count.  As it was, the man took two stumbling steps to one side and
crumpled into a heap, badly injured.  Still staggering and gagging, John managed to make it to his feet.  He was
less than a motra from the door.  

“Get him!” Braca yelled.

“Don’t go near him!” Aeryn bellowed out the countermand.  

She shifted her thumb to the end of the cylindrical control rod, pressing down on a third activation pad, and the
collar’s shriek rose an octave.  Crichton sank to his knees, one hand wrenching desperately at the collar, and
then, with the other hand clawing frantically at the doorframe, dragged himself up again.  

“I … refuse to … hate … you,” he gargled out between agonized, half-strangled breaths.  “I … won’t.”  
Stumbling, lurching, retching out sliding ropes of saliva, he waved his free hand across the door control and
took two shambling steps into the corridor.  

A black gloved hand grabbed Crichton by the throat, slapping over his bare one with a loud crack, and John
was jerked upright and propelled back into the room.  “Welcome home, Crichton,” Scorpius hissed from a
distance of two denches.  “We have some unfinished business.”  

“No,” John croaked through the double agonies of Scorpius’ grip and the still shrilling collar.  “Never.”  

“Yes.  Today.”  Scorpius waved his free hand at Aeryn and the collar went silent.  “Right now as a matter of
fact.”  With a fast twist of his wrist, the half-breed snapped the collar in two and flung the remnants to one side.  
Then, still holding a slowly suffocating Crichton by the throat, Scorpius pulled John’s overcoat and vest off in a
series of unforgiving jerks, leaving the prisoner wearing only in his usual black t-shirt and leather pants.  

“That’s better, don’t you think, Crichton?  More like the good old days.”  He stepped up onto the platform,
dragging John with him, and thrust him into the Chair.  The restraints and head pad snapped down into place,
leaving Scorpius free to straighten up and survey his unwilling guest.  

John sat panting for several moments, eyes closed while he caught his breath, and then the unnatural stillness
that he had exhibited after his attack in the hangar returned.  He smiled up at Scorpius, even managing to look
as though he were pleased to be back in the Chair.  “I don’t care what you do to me.  Turn my brain to goo, if
you want.  You will never teach me how to hate.  That is the key to what Aeryn is trying to do to me.  She thinks
that once I learn how to hate, the two of you can turn me into something as depraved and twisted as what she
has become.  It’s a Luke and Darth Vader thing.  But you don’t have what it takes, Scorpy.”  

“You are mistaken, Crichton.  You have no idea what I want.  Officer Sun knows, however.  This was entirely her
idea.  She was the one who suggested using the Aurora Chair, with the provision that she be allowed to
operate the controls.”  

Crichton strained against the head pads, eyes rolling as far as possible to the right in order to check the
consoles.  Aeryn was there, just as Scorpius had suggested, standing with her hand on the intensity lever.  He
relaxed for a moment and then fought against the restraints again, trying to get a better look at her.  His plea,
when it came, was delivered in the same calm, accepting manner as all the others.  “You need help, Aeryn.  
You don’t understand what you’re doing.  Let me go, and we can get you some help.”  

“No, John.  You’re going to stay here until you answer Scorpius’ questions about wormholes.”  

He sagged back into the grasp of the Chair, momentarily shaken by her demand.  “Worm … But … But I don’t
know anything about wormholes anymore.  They took that all away from me.  All of it.  Didn’t they?”  His next
attempt to look at her ended with a jolt from the surface beneath him.  The Aurora Chair began its slow
revolutions, and Aeryn moved out of his line of sight.  John shifted his head as far as it would go in the other
direction, and waited for her to reappear.  “Don’t do this, Aeryn.  It won’t make me hate you, and you’ll only
destroy yourself if you do this to me.”  

She turned her head to the left, deliberately looking away from Crichton and focusing on Scorpius instead.  The
half-breed nodded, and Aeryn deftly adjusted the settings for the controls and then jammed the lever up to full

Crichton managed not to scream at first.  Starting out with muffled, close-lipped whines, he progressed to nasal
screeches, and from there to unvoiced, arching, agonized exhalations.  It wasn’t until a full quarter arn had
passed that he screamed for the first time, and even then it was a scream of pain only, lacking the background
layers of desperation or anguish that normally went hand in hand with torture.  After that first screeching
outburst, he couldn’t make it stop.  At times he gave in to a full-throated, wide-mouthed howl that echoed off the
ceramic-coated walls, and other times he managed a more restrained but longer lasting airy cry of pain.  But no
matter what form the screams took, each bolt of energy from the Chair demanded its brutal penance from John
Crichton.  It went on without relief for another half an arn, playing up and down the range of intensities, until
Aeryn finally yanked the intensity lever down and snapped all the circuits to their closed position.   

“Continue!” Scorpius demanded.  He jumped down from his perch beside John and strode around the corner of
the console to look at the readouts.  “He is beginning to weaken.”  

“No, he isn’t.  It’s not working, and he is going into neural shock.  He needs a rest.”

“More,” Scorpius said, and pointed to a screen depicting a neural map.  “Here, here, and here.  Pinpoint these

“He needs rest,” Aeryn said, reaching for the main power switch.  

“If you allow him to rest, you will have wasted the past half arn.  Continue.”  Scorpius waited, his hand on the
power switch, preventing her from turning the machinery off entirely.  “Now, Officer Sun.  You must not delay.”  

Aeryn looked across at Crichton, who had begun the tiny, hiccupping seizures she had seen once before, and
compared his physical appearance with what the monitors were telling her.  His shirt was soaked with sweat
from the collar to his waist, his face and chin were dripping with a combination of sweat, spit, and mucus, and
there was a slow crawl of blood working its way down his chin from where he had bitten his lip.  The sensor
readouts told a similar tale of growing exhaustion, physical shock, and the first spiking indications that would, if
this continued long enough, eventually turn into irreparable neural breakdown.  But there were also weak spots
growing exactly where Scorpius had indicated.  

“If you cannot continue as ordered, I will have Braca take over the controls,” he said.  

“Melting his brain won’t accomplish what we want,” she snapped back at him.  

Scorpius leaned in close, eyes fixed on Aeryn’s.  “Officer Sun, you demanded that I allow you to fill this
particular role.  If you do not have the stomach for what needs to be done then step aside.  Now.  We must
continue before Crichton has the opportunity to rebuild the defenses we have torn down.”  

“If we stop now, we would have to start over when we resume,” she said after several more microts of

“Correct.”  Scorpius waited until she nodded, then released her hand where it rested on the power switch and
returned to his place on the revolving pedestal.   

“Wh … wh … why aren’t you … stripping my memories?” John panted through a spray of saliva.  

“That technique failed in the past, Crichton.  We are trying a new method in order to reach the information I
require.  Once we destroy the block you have created in your mind, we will begin the information retrieval.”

“There’s … no … block, Scorpy.  There’s no … no …” He blinked in confusion several times.  “I don’t remember
what you wanted.”  

“You will, Crichton.  Very soon, you will.”  

Scorpius gestured to Aeryn, and after a microt’s hesitation, she adjusted the controls and ran the intensity lever
up to maximum with a fast, determined slide.  This time the screams began immediately and continued without
any sign of weakening as they brutalized their way into Crichton’s second arn of unrelenting agony.  Around the
perimeter of the room, the guards began to fidget, exhibiting small signs that the abuse and the associated
screams were beginning to wear on them as well.  Braca, standing in the corner behind Aeryn where he could
watch her progress with the controls, caught one of the movements out of the corner of his eye.  He turned and
glared at the culprit.  The discomforted squirming by the guards came to a halt.  

The hard punching slam of energy flowing through the Chair’s circuitry continued without interruption, each jolt
accompanied by another of the unemotional yet gut-wrenching screams, and the smell of ionized air, scorched
electronics, and the sour tang of bile and sweat merged into a single, miasmic stench of human suffering.  

“Sir,” Braca interrupted as Crichton hauled in a shrieking breath in preparation for another scream.  “A break.”  
He stepped forward, leaned past Aeryn, and pointed.  She yanked every lever down except the one controlling
the rotation of the Chair, which was backed off to half speed.  It revolved one more time before she brought it to
a stop with John facing the door.  

“Excellent,” Scorpius hissed, leaning in close to his panting victim.  “It is time for a small surprise, Crichton.  
Someone wanted to see you very badly while you were hiding from us.  Unfortunately, you have arrived too late
to enjoy his company.”  Behind him, Braca slid into place behind the control panel, and Aeryn hurried from the

“C-c-c-crais?” John stammered out.  “May … maybe Gilina?  Or … or … or my Mom.  This is all a … bad dream,
right?  Scarrans makin’ things up?  Or … maybe … D-d-delvians?”  

“This isn’t a dream, Crichton, although I’m quite sure that in a few microts you’ll wish it was.  You see, the
knowledge that I require was no longer lodged in your brain alone.  It was transferred to someone else through
your DNA.  You disappeared shortly after the signing of the armistice, making it impossible to retrieve the
information from you directly.  It was merely fortuitous that Officer Sun was willing to help me with my research
provided I assist her in locating you.”  

Aeryn reentered the room pushing one of the wheeled medbeds that were common on both Leviathans and the
less organic Command Carriers.  This one was different in that it was smaller than usual, and instead of a
padded surface, it had a raised metal lip around the upper edge so it resembled a serving cart rather than a
medbed.  The top was covered with a sheet.  

“Aeryn?” John asked.  “What’s going on?  What have you done?”  

“Scorpius needed information, John.  You refused to give it to him.  There was only one way to get it.”  

“This is some sort of trick, isn’t it?  You’re still trying to make me hate so you can use that against me.  
Whatever this is, it won’t work.”  

Aeryn yanked the sheet away from the cart, revealing what looked like an unappetizing, undercooked selection
of barbeque cuts swimming in a repulsive, reddish quagmire.  Crichton tried to turn his head away from the
mess of glistening bone, gristle, and meat, grimacing and retching if for no other reason than the thought that
someone had deliberately turned one or more unidentifiable animals into such a horrid looking mess.  Some
facet of the mound of flesh beckoned to him however, drawing his eyes back in fast flickers, suggesting that if
he stared at it long enough, he could reconstruct what sort of creature this had once been.  But looking at it
only served to increase his nausea to the point that he was force to take in deep, open mouth breaths, fighting
a losing battle not to vomit.  

He spat out a mouthful of saliva, missing Scorpius by less than half a dench, and addressed both of his
tormentors.  For the first time since he had descended from the courier frigate, his armor of dispassionate calm
slipped, and he spat his accusations out in a furious spray of saliva.  “Roadkill show and tell.  Ugly but I’ve seen
worse after a couple of big rigs disemboweled some of the local wildlife on I-95.  What’s your point?”

Aeryn stepped up onto the pedestal and hung over him, gripping the framework of the Chair tightly, her face
denches from his.  “That is not roadkill, as you call it, John.  That is what is left of your son!  That is all that is
left of D’Argo.  It was regrettable, but there was no other way.”  

Shocked past the point of speech, Crichton glanced back at the cart, gagged, and then managed to recover
without vomiting.  “You’re sick, Aeryn.  You need help.  Look at what … what … ”  He gasped for breath,
stopped breathing for several microts, and once again reverted to the forgiving, calm person that had entered
the mockup of the Gammack Base over an arn earlier.  “I keep trying to tell you, Aeryn, you are sick.  If this
doesn’t convince you, nothing ever will.”  He glanced at the cart and its gory contents, lurched, and coughed up
a spattering shower of yellowish stomach acid.  “You can’t make me hate.  You’ll never break me, Aeryn.”    

“Yes, I can, and I am going to do it right now!” she yelled, and jumped down from the raised platform.  
Shouldering Braca aside with a fast slam of her upper body, Aeryn moved into the confined area behind the
control panel.  Sparing no more than two microts to examine the information displayed on the readouts, she
cranked a dial all the way to its limits, slammed the intensity lever as far as it would go, closed her eyes, and
leaned on the activation switch.

The first three screams from Crichton were the same as all the rest he had let out over the last one and a half
arns:  agonized and yet always holding some portion of himself back, giving free vent to the pain and entirely
devoid of emotion.  The fourth held something new.  It might have been a note of desperation or the first chord
of irreparable damage, the change was too subtle to tell.  The fifth lungful of air erased all doubt concerning the
source of the new tone.  The eerily calm acceptance of what was being done to him disappeared in the space
between the end of one scream and the beginning of the next, leaving a more recognizable John Crichton
howling out his agony encased in a single lyric.

“AERYYYYYNNNNNNNN!!”  He sucked in another breath and repeated it, this time pleading for her to stop the
torment.  The seventh scream was an anguished crescendo that rose to a new level of tormented fury, stripped
of every last vestige of emotional control.  

Behind the control panel, Aeryn lunged for a shutoff switch.  With a loud bang, everything came to a stop.  
Restraints popped open, the Aurora Chair lurched to a halt, and Crichton tumbled forward, bounced once off
the edge of the raised base, and went sprawling across the floor.  Aeryn was around the end of the control
panel and headed toward him before his body finished its uncontrolled descent.  Drooling, crying, sputtering
out thin strings of yellowish saliva that might have been an empty-stomached excuse for vomit, John was
making a floundering effort to crawl toward the cart with the hideous contents, gabbling out fragmented, spit-
slobbering syllables that held a lifetime’s worth of grief and suffering in their unintelligible message.   

Aeryn bolted across the final two motras separating them, and slid into place beside him on one leathered hip.  

“God, what have you done?  Why?  Oh god, why, Aeryn?” he sobbed out, try to shove her away.  “Me, I
understand, but why him?  Get away from me, you bitch.  How could you do this to your own son, you fucking

She kicked his arms out from under him, stopping his efforts to reach the cart, and then lunged forward and
knocked him to the floor, covering his entire upper body with hers.  “It isn’t him, John.  Stop.  It isn’t D’Argo.  I
swear to you, it’s not him.”  

John fought to get loose, squirming wildly, trying to reach her with his elbows or buck her off, screaming out his
anguish with every heave of his body and thrashing attempt to hit her.  Nothing worked.  Despite his wild flailing,
Aeryn was able to slide an arm under one of his shoulders, looped her hand behind his neck, and pinned him
face down against the floor.  Not being able to get up made no difference to John.  He continued to fight,
swearing continuously, and even made a sloppy, poorly aimed attempt to spit at her.  “Don’t lie to me!  Look at
it.  It’s him!  What kind of trick are you playing this time?”  

“Stop!  Stop it.  I could never do that to my son, John Crichton.  Never in a thousand cycles.  It is not D’Argo.  
Listen to me!  It’s not D’Argo.”  

“Not … not …”  The futile attempts to get free slowed to a stop.  “If it’s not him, then what was all of this
supposed to be, Aeryn?  The practical joke from hell?”  

“The Nebari, John.  You were mind-cleansed.  We tried everything else.  This was the only way we could think
of to break through it.  This was the only way.  We had to create the largest shock we could think of in order to
get you to fight your way out of it.”  

“Shock?” he mumbled into the floor.

“Yes.”  Aeryn sat up slowly, stopping several times to make sure that John wasn’t going to resume his efforts to
reach the cart.  He lay as she had left him, cheek pressed into the floor, staring blindly in the direction of the
one thing -- the single devastating horror -- that had been able to break through the artificially constructed
barriers in his mind.    

“That’s not Little D?” he asked one more time.  

It was Scorpius who answered this time.  “You have my word of honor, Crichton.  This,” Scorpius dipped a
gloved finger into the ‘blood’ and rubbed the viscous fluid between his thumb and forefinger, “is not even
animal in origin.  When Officer Sun contacted us for assistance, our medical technicians assured me they could
replicate a reasonable facsimile of a corpse from modified amorphous proteins.  They will be pleased to know
that their efforts were successful.”  

Crichton pushed himself up onto his hands and knees.  “Trick or treat meets Jeffrey Dahmer,” he mumbled and
then, head hanging between his arms, arched convulsively several times, his entire body seizing in response to
the news.  “God, I think I’m going to be sick.”  

“I believe that is my cue to leave,” Scorpius said.  He waved the Braca and the remaining guards out of the
room, indicating that they should take the cart with them, and then paused next to Aeryn’s shoulder.  “Braca will
attend to the remainder of your requests.  If you should require anything else …”    

“We will let you know,” Aeryn finished when Scorpius made no effort to complete his sentence.  She waited until
the half-breed was in the corridor before saying anything else.  “Scorpius … thank you.  I could not have done
this without your help.”  

Emotionless gray eyes turned toward where she knelt next to John, contemplating the couple for several
microts before making an observation about her brief expression of gratitude.  “That was not an easy admission
to make,” he said.

“You have no idea.”  

The black-hooded head made an infinitesimal nod, acknowledging the thanks as well as the strength it took for
her to offer it, and then Scorpius disappeared from sight with his usual languid, arrogant stroll.  

“Where’s the little D?” John asked.  Mid-sentence, his voice jumped from a low, exhausted growl to a frantic
shriek, switching from merely anxious to sounding deranged in the space of one syllable.  “I need to see him,
just to b-b-b-be sure.  Where is he?”

“He’s here, onboard the carrier.  Someone had to look out for him while we came after you, and I couldn’t think
of any other place that would be safe to leave him.  He’s fine.  Braca has issued orders to give us an arn for
you to recover, and then they’re going to bring him down here.”  

“Wait.  You said I was mind-cleansed.  That … that t-t-t-takes cycles, Aeryn!  How … how old is he?  I mean,”
John straightened up to look more closely at her before finishing the question, “you don’t look any dih …
different, but you’re Sebacean, and Little D, he’s only …”

“Stop,” she said firmly after several attempts to still the distressed rambling.  “Stop for a moment and let me tell
you what’s happened.”  

“I don’t remember.  Aeryn, how many cycles has it b-b-b-been?” he stammered out.    

“Not even half a cycle.  His second birthday isn’t for another forty-eight solar days.  I promised him I would have
you home in time for his birthday.  Now sit down, shut up, and let me sort things out for you.  After what I just did
to you, you may have some difficulty thinking for a few days.”  

Crichton wiped his face with the heel of one trembling hand and let his rump slide off his feet so he was sitting
instead of kneeling.  Letting out a long, shuddering breath, he wiped his hands down his already filthy shirt and
then looked squarely at Aeryn for the first time.  He nodded toward the temple to jaw bruise discoloring the
entire side of her face and the swollen, blackening eye.  “Did I do that?”   

“Yes.  You got loose on the way here.”  

That announcement set off a shuddering, jerking reaction from John’s entire body, one that gradually worked
its way into convulsive lurches and an uncontrollable flood of tears.  “What’s … wrong with me?” he gasped out
through a slick tide of mucus and saliva.    

“Neural shock, among half a dozen other things.  It will pass.  Try to relax until it does.”  Aeryn retrieved his
coat, draped it around his shoulders and then sat down where she could watch him.  “Ready?”

John clutched the coat tightly around him and nodded.  

“We dropped Rygel and Chiana off on Hyneria, and then started working our way toward the Inner Sebacean
Colonies.  We were still debating whether to settle on a planet or remain on Moya.”  She waited for John’s nod
before continuing.  “We found what looked like a moderately industrialized world, and you took a transport pod
down to investigate.”  

“I remember that!” John blurted into her explanation.  “I didn’t like the political situation and decided to beat

“A contingent of Nebari were there, recognized you, and they grabbed you.”

“Frelling wormholes again.  They wanted wormhole tech,” John said, hunching in on himself.  He began to
shiver.  “When is this galaxy going to learn that wormholes don’t solve anything?”  

“We’re not sure what happened when they found out you didn’t have anything to give them.  Do you remember
any of that?”  

Without raising his eyes from the floor in front of his knees, John swung his head from side to side.  “Not yet.  I
don’t remember very much of what you’re describing.”  

“You may never recover that part of your memory.  What we did find out is that they have a new method of
mind-cleansing that takes a fraction of the time to finish, and --”  Aeryn stopped, looking uncertain.  

“And what?” John asked, repeating, “And what, Aeryn?” when she didn’t answer right away.

“And they can use it to program people to do certain things that the Nebari aren’t willing to do themselves.”

John stared at her for several microts, jaw hanging and eyes vague while he considered what she had just told
him.  “Assassin,” he said finally.  “They were going to use me to kill as many Eidelons as possible.  I was
supposed to kill the entire Council of Priests if … if I could manage it.  They want to upset the balance of power
in this quadrant, and they can’t do … do … do that unless the Peacekeepers and the Scarrans are … at war.”  
He tried to get to his feet, lost his balance, and wound up back on the floor.  “Did I?  Did I succeed?  I don’t
remember, Aeryn!”

“No.  You didn’t kill any of the Eidelons, John.  Calm down.”  She knelt in front of the swaying, distraught figure
and took his face in both hands, stilling his uncoordinated attempts to get up.  “The programming didn’t work
the way they had hoped.  You managed to get inside the New Temple on Arnessk, but when it came time to kill
the Eidelons, you couldn’t do it.  I’ve seen the vid recordings of it.  You were like a piece of machinery that has
become stuck and keeps trying to complete an operation.  You couldn’t go forward, but you couldn’t go back

“Peacekeeper guards,” John said more calmly.  “Protecting the priests as they did thousands of cycles ago.  
I … I think I remember killing some of them.”  

“Yes, you did.  But once you fought them off, you still would not kill the priests.  The Nebari gave you fighting
abilities the likes of which I have never seen, John, but they couldn’t change the core essence of who you

John pulled out of her grasp, rolled onto his side, and curled into a ball, doing his best to keep the overcoat
wrapped around him.  “The core essence of who I am feels … like ab … absolute crap right now.  Why the
Chair and the horror show?  Wasn’t there any … other way to break the brainwashing?”  

“We did try several other things, all based on how Durkha broke his mind-cleansing cycles ago.”  

"You blew me up!” John yelled, and sat up again, looking more energetic.  “The explosion in the cell on the ship
wasn’t an accident.  You damned near killed me with that, Aeryn!”  

She nodded.  “We decided to start with simple physical trauma, hoping that was what allowed Durkha to free
himself from the mental cleansing.  When that didn’t work, we began trying varying levels of emotional attacks.  
Nothing broke through, John.”  

John rolled onto his knees for the second time, and paused there, swaying wildly and still looking dazed while
he examined his surroundings.  “You went for broke with this one.  On a scale of one to ten for horror, this
scores a twenty-two.”  

His teeth chattered out an erratic Morse code telling a tale of compounding physical shock and emotional
upset, and he resumed the wild full-body shuddering.  Ducking his head, he wiped more tears away with one of
the few remaining clean sections of his t-shirt, and then resumed the shaking.  “I’m a m-m-mess, Aeryn.  Can’t
see the little guy this way.  He’ll have nightmares about me for the … rest of his life.  I need to … to go … go …
go somewhere and … clean … up first.”  

“No, you don’t.  Sit,” she ordered, and helped him make the transition.  “Stay.”

“Yes’m.”  Crichton folded his arms across his knees and rested his head on them, waiting to see what Aeryn
had in mind for him next.  

“Look up.”

When he raised his head, Aeryn was kneeling in front of him with a damp cloth in her hands.  He didn’t bother
asking where she had gotten it.  He simply sat with his upper body braced against his knees, and obeyed each
of her quiet commands while Aeryn gently wiped away the accumulation of sweat, blood, tears, and mucus from
his face, working her way slowly down his chin and throat.  

“M-m-m-magician now,” John finally stammered when she moved on to his arms.  “Wave your hand and presto,
a towel appears.”  

She looked into his eyes, glanced down toward his mouth, wiped away a trickle of blood coming from his lip, and
then looked up again.  “I had to act like this would work.  Do you understand that?  I had to plan it out as though
it would succeed, and we would wind up right here the way we are now.  I couldn’t let myself think any other

He nodded jerkily.  The motion got away from him, turning into a violent up-down physical stammer.  Aeryn
caught him by the sides of the head and brought it to a stop.  He turned his head into one of her hands and
gave her a fast sideways kiss as a thank you.  “Have you got … got … a clean shirt hidden somewhere?  This
one’s had it.”  

“As a matter of fact,” she smiled at him, “I do.”  She tossed the cloth to one side, got up, and disappeared
behind the control consoles.  “And clean pants if you need them,” she called to him.  

“No, but it was a near miss when you b-b-b-brought out the gory Halloween trick.  D-d-d-d-damn near shit
myself.”  He spent several moments shivering and looking around the room, contemplating the trouble they had
gone to in order to make it resemble the Gammak Base.  “You came to Scorpius for help,” he said eventually.  

“Braca first.  He brought in Scorpius.  I needed transportation, guards who could subdue you, and resources.  
And,” Aeryn reappeared carrying several items, “you have to admit that no one else can shock people like

John raised his arms, letting Aeryn pull his shirt off over his head.  Another one was pulled down into place, and
she helped him put on his vest.  When they were done, Aeryn draped his overcoat over his shoulders again,
and knelt in front of him.  “Need some more time?”  

“Yeah.  Decade ought to do it.”  He glanced toward her and away several times.  “I’m not mad at you.”  

Aeryn took a deep breath and let it out slowly, letting her head hang for several microts before she answered
him.  “You would have every right to be.  John, I tried to think of another way to do it, but I just couldn’t come up
with anything else that would be this --”

“Horrible?” he asked.

“Shocking.  After discussing it with some of the research specialists here, I felt that it had to be some form of
shock that broke Durkha’s mental cleansing.”    

He thought about that for an extended period of time, the shivering slowly abating as both his mind and body
recovered from the battering they had endured.  “The Chair and Scorpius weren’t part of the shock treatment,”
he said eventually.   

“That was a bit of both.  We recreated the room from the Gammak Base in order to get you off balance, and
hoped that it would bring back some bad memories.”  

“You succeeded,” John said.  “And after that you went drilling for oil and hit stupid instead.”  

“If you mean were we using the Chair to create breaks in the imposed conditioning, then the answer is yes.  It
was intended to soften you up for the final series of shocks.”  



John wrapped his arms around his midsection and started to shiver again.  “The next time you need to scare
the crap out of me, save us all some time and trouble and just ask for a divorce.”

A small, shocked sounding laugh escaped from Aeryn, after which she smiled at him and reached out to run a
hand through his hair.  But something went wrong half way through the process.  It began when Aeryn had to
fight an extended battle to keep her smile from turning into a frown.  As John watched in concern, she began to
collapse in upon herself, as though all the portions of her body that kept her upright were slowly dissolving.  
The disciplined soldier disappeared, the assured movements turned to trembling hands and brimming eyes,
and a horrible mixture of sobs and laughter began to escape from her lips.

“Aeryn?” John asked, ducking his head to look into her eyes.  “What’s … what is this?  What’s wrong?  What
aren’t you telling me?  Did Scorpius do something to you?”  

She shook her head, covered her eyes with one hand, and started to tremble from head to toe.  

John shuffled forward on his knees, controlling his own shaking long enough to do a fast, erratic inventory of
her body, clothes, and the increasing level of tremors coming from Aeryn.  “Babe, I’m okay,” he said at last.  
“You did the right thing.”    

“I tortured you,” she whispered from behind her hand.  

He scuffled across the distance remaining between them and carefully pulled her hand away from her face.  
“You saved me.  You know that, right?”  

Her nod was a tremulous, teary-eyed affair that went sideways as often as it went up and down.  She bit her lip,
tried to smile at him, and started to cry instead.  

“It’s okay to go to pieces now that it’s over,” John said quietly.  “We can sit here and go to pieces together, but
I’m pretty far down the road already so you’ll have to do some catching up.”

“I can do that,” she said through the first trickle of tears.

He reached for her, intending to pull her into a hug.  “Come here.”

“No,” Aeryn said on the first catch of a sob.  “I want to hold you.  And I want you to tell me that you understand
why I had to be the one to do this to you.  I couldn’t let Scorpius or Braca handle the controls, John.  I was so
afraid they wouldn’t know when to stop, or that they might take revenge for some reason we didn’t know about.  
I couldn’t trust them not to hurt you, so I had to be the one to do that to you.”

“It’s okay.  I understand.  I’m okay, I’m okay,” he repeated through the flood of explanations.  “If you want to hold
me, then hold me.  I could use a little of that right now.”  He dropped onto one hip, and from there wormed his
way into her embrace so he was half lying and half sitting with his back against her legs and chest, and his
head tucked in against her shoulder.  Once settled, he encouraged Aeryn to wrap her arms around him.  
“Tighter.  Hold on tight.”  

They sat that way for nearly half an arn, both of them shaking from time to time, John shuddering and lurching
his way through the aftermath of the Chair, and with Aeryn making a slow and thorough exploration of as much
of his body as she could reach.  There were occasional bouts of tears, slow whispers that were frequently
interrupted by John’s chattering teeth or stammering, and together they worked their way through the first tide
of residual trauma.  

“John,” she whispered in anguish at one point.  Aeryn had been examining his chafed wrists and in the process
had turned his hand palm up.  There were four deep bleeding gouges that had been carved into his hand by
his own fingernails, evidence of the degree of agony he had endured.  Crichton caught her right hand -- the
hand that had been resting on the intensity control for the Aurora Chair -- in his, and kissed his way up her
palm from wrist to fingertips.  It put an end to her whispered self-recriminations, leaving only quiet assurances
from both of them that their love hadn’t suffered from the events of the past several arns.  

“I don’t want D’Argo to meet us here,” John eventually said in a firmer voice.  Pointing toward the Aurora Chair
with his chin, he explained, “I don’t want him to see that atrocity.  He’s too young to have to know that things like
that exist in this universe.”  

“Can you walk yet?” she asked.   

For an answer, John sat up and put out a hand.  With Aeryn alternately pulling to help him up and pushing so
he wouldn’t over balance and fall down again, he staggered to his feet.  She led him to the wall near the door,
propped him up, and went back for another damp towel and his coat.  After several microts worth of work with
the towel, and some help getting John into his coat, Aeryn stepped back and inspected him.  “It’ll have to do,”
she said.  

John scrubbed at his face with the towel one last time before tossing it to one side, gave her a weak grin, and
pushed away from the wall.  “Can’t shine shit.”

“I’m not going to bother asking whether that is something you would seriously attempt.”  

“Smart woman,” he said, and then demanded, “The little D.  I want to see him.  I need to see him, Aeryn.  Just
not here.”  

Aeryn bent toward a Peacekeeper-issue comms device and held a brief, hushed discussion with someone.  
Straightening up, she explained, “I asked them to meet us in the Medical Sector.  Don’t get upset when you see
him though.  I didn’t bring any of his clothing when I brought him here, and he loves wearing a uniform.”  

“If he’s healthy and in one piece he can wear a pink tutu for all I care.”  

“This way,” she said, steering him out the door and turning to the right.  

“Medical Sector … I want to go home, Aeryn.  We’ve got scanners aboard Moya.  I just --”  John stopped
walking and turned away from her for a moment, wiping away more tears with the heel of his hand.  He took a
deep breath, shoulders rising all the way to his ears before settling down, and then turned to face her more in
control of himself.  “I want to grab the tadpole, and get the hell out of here, Aeryn.  I just want to go home to
Moya.  You and the little guy are all I need right now.”    

“Medical,” she said firmly.  “Please, John.  For me.  If the Chair caused any damage or if any of the blocks the
Nebari created are still in place, they have the expertise to deal with either one.  It won’t take long.”  

Crichton didn’t put up a fight.  He looped his arm over her shoulders, and turned to resume their original
course.  “Okay.  Whatever you want, Aeryn.”

“And while they’re making sure you are all right, I can have the surgeons release the stasis on our daughter.”  

John stumbled and went down on one knee, nearly taking Aeryn with him.  With one hand against the wall to
steady himself, and Aeryn pulling on the other, he lurched back up faster than he had gone down.  “Dau …
Daughter?”  He looked between her abdomen and her face several times.  “Daughter?  When … I mean, how
long … Are you sure?”  

“Positive.  I arranged for a test when I left D’Argo here.  It’s a girl.”  

“An itty-bitty little Aeryn Sun,” he said.  The beginnings of a smile faded, turning into a wary, cautious look
instead.  “How soon?”  

Smiling, Aeryn ran a hand down his cheek, and gave him a quick kiss.  “I asked them to adjust it to a normal
pregnancy.  As much as I’d like to get it over with, it is easier on both me and the baby if it proceeds at a pace
that is normal for a Sebacean.”  

The grin stayed in place this time.  It was a tired looking smile, as though it might be fighting its way past pain
and exhaustion, but it didn’t fade.  “How long will that take?”  

“About three quarters of a cycle.”  

“Nine months of pickles, ice cream, and pure hormonal hell,” he said, holding on to her shoulders more tightly.  
“I can’t wait.  I never had a free microt to tell you the last time, but you are unbelievably beautiful when you are

“I’m unbelievably fat and awkward when I’m pregnant,” she said, grimacing.  

“No, you aren’t.  You’re gorgeous, and voluptuous, and I get all excited every time I look at you.  And you are so
damned strong, Aeryn Sun.  This entire thing took the kind of guts I’ll never have.”

“I am not,” she said.  This time it was Aeryn who was showing all the signs of impending tears.  “I’m weak.”  

“How can you say that after what you just managed to pull off?  You’re the strongest person I’ve ever known in
my life!”  

“I couldn’t go on without you.  They,” she waved a hand to indicate the entire Command Carrier and its
complement of Peacekeepers, “kept telling me the mental cleansing was irreversible.  But that left me with
nothing, so I couldn’t give up.  This wasn’t strength, John.  It was desperation.”  

“Oh, god,” John sighed.  Tucking her head under his chin with one hand, he leaned his cheek against the top
of her head, and hugged her tightly.  “What a pair we make.”  They stood like that for tens of microts, little
going on in the corridor other than their slow breathing and Aeryn’s occasional jerky sighs.  Eventually John
roused himself enough to rub a hand along her back.  “You aren’t allowed to cry anymore.  I already look like
day old dren, and one of us has to be presentable when Little D sees us or the poor kid is gonna freak out

“Too late.”  Aeryn tugged the hem of his shirt out of the waist of his pants and used it to wipe her face, after
which she tucked it back in for him.  “How’s that?” she asked, raising her face toward his.   

“Good enough to pass kiddie inspection.  Let’s go.  The sooner we get you pregnant for real, the sooner we
can get off this oversized tin can.”  

“I was raised on one of these oversized tin cans,” Aeryn said.  “I loved the certainty, the structure, knowing
exactly where I belonged and what I was supposed to be doing every microt of the day.  It was comforting.”  

“And now?”  

Tucked securely under his arm, managing to make it look like they were simply walking together rather than a
case of her holding him up, she gazed at the uniformly decorated walls stretching out in front of her.  “Not so
much.”  Aeryn held John more tightly around the waist, lending some extra stability to his wavering, stumbling
excuse for a walk.  “I find other things more comforting these days.”  

“Glad I could be of assistance,” he said.  

“I was talking about D’Argo.”  

“Oh,” he said, sounding demoralized, which summoned a wider, more cheerful grin from Aeryn.  He leaned
against her a little harder after that, but not from fatigue or lack of balance, holding her close against his side
as they walked through the labyrinth of corridors in perfectly matched steps.  

After a quarter arn of Aeryn guiding their journey with a relaxed hand pointing either left or right, they turned
the final corner leading into the Medical Sector, passed through the red and black emblazoned doors, and were
greeted by an elated shriek that made every microt of pain, anguish, fear, and horror more than worthwhile.


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