Rating: G. Spoilers/Time Frame: Future Fic. This story takes place approximately 19 cycles after PKWars, or roughly 8 cycles after JJ’s story, ‘The Vice-Chancellor and The Admiral’. Disclaimer: The characters and universe of Farscape are the property of the Henson Co. I have not made any profit off this tale, and I am giving all but one of the canon characters back the way I found them. One is never going to be the same again. MWAAAHAHAHAHAHAAAAA!!!!
Test Drivers: No betareaders. All errors, omissions, oversights, typos, lousy grammar, and plot holes (if there are any) are all mine. Written quickly and slapped up on the internet with an abysmal level of review. I apologize in advance for any errors.
Starburst Challenge 62 (hosted by JJ): Your mission, should you wish to accept it, is to write a sequel to my SC61 contribution. It can be fun or dark or angsty. It can be the same day, the next weeken, or 100 cycles in the future. The only rules are that your contribution has to include Scorpius and Grayza, even if only walk on parts, the part-Interon boy, and the three cadets Grayza entertains to tea.
I hope you enjoy it.
* * * * *
Sub-Officer Greshyn Graza had a word stuck in her head. It marched in place inside her skull, hammering out a steady cadence, drowning out all other thoughts. The word had been banging out its tempo for several arns, resisting all attempts to banish it from her mind. It was slowly driving her crazy.
Vicissitudes of war. She managed to break into the rhythm long enough to put the word into context. It meant that things change quickly during conflict. Some doors open, providing unequalled opportunities for advance- ment, while others close with the form of finality that can only come from death. She could not remember when or where she had learned the phrase, or why it had invaded her brain at this particular moment. It did not apply to her present situation. The vicissitudes of war had not brought her to this juncture in her life, and the outcome of today’s battle was unlikely to influence her destiny in a way that was beneficial. She was certain that within an arn, she would be dead.
Greshyn shifted to one side, trying to find a position where a chunk of rubble was not digging into her hip. Debris tumbled from the heap, rattled onto the floor.
“Maintain silence!” a voice snarled into the battle comms tucked behind her ear.
Greshyn let out an inaudible sigh, and focused her attention on the far end of the corridor, doing her best to ignore the fact that she had traded the discomfort of having a fist-sized chunk of rock digging into her hip for something larger and sharper jabbing the side of her thigh. She squirmed to one side. That made things worse. Now both her hip and her thigh were resting on something uncomfortable. It was though she was under attack from the building itself.
“They have penetrated the first level,” the voice said into her ear.
She and her comrades were on the fourth level. It would not take long for the battle to reach them. They had less than a quarter arn to live. All of a sudden, the lumpy, unyielding surface beneath her body no longer mattered.
A flicker of movement to her right drew her attention. Olpin was lying on her back, facing away from where the attacking forces would appear, watching Greshyn. Technically, according to strict interpretation of regulations, Olpin had turned her back on the enemy. It was a lapse of combat discipline punishable by death. On the other hand, who the frell cared at this point? They were all going to be dead soon anyway. Greshyn shifted her weapon to the crook of her left arm and flicked a hand signal at Olpin with her right.
“What?” she queried.
“Frell him,” came back.
Greshyn almost laughed. Frell Scorpius, their commander and the voice in their battle comms. The thought summoned giggles, first because it was so disrespectful, and second because the idea was both repulsive and absurd. Frell the hideous half-scarran abomination whose stupidity and blind ambition had dragged everyone on this base into this tactical disaster.
“After you,” she sent back.
Olpin made a rude gesture.
“Reinforcements coming from the rear,” Scorpius transmitted. “Hold your fire.”
Up and down the tunnel, heads snapped around, looking behind them, eyes full of cautious hope. Cautious because it was too much to expect a miracle at this point and yet they all wanted to live, so they clung to the belief for a few moments, the belief that there would be a rescue, a miraculous reprieve, a resolution that would allow them to emerge from this mess alive. Greshyn was no different. She watched the massive hatch at the end of the corridor, aching for the heavy, thickly reinforced door to swing aside to reveal an entire battalion of fresh, well-armed troops. In her minds eye, they were carrying gleaming, unfamiliar weapons; weapons that would make a difference, that would turn certain defeat into victory. She waited, breath held, wondering where Scorpius had managed to locate reinforcements and how they had gotten into the complex considering that the planet was surrounded by an armada of enemy ships.
Hope fluttered inside her chest. It felt as though a half dozen demented flibisks had been turned loose inside her ribcage.
The door swung open. Ssezzin let out an impressive string of profanity. Someone laughed.
Techs. Scorpius had issued weapons to the support techs and lower status researchers, and had ordered them into battle.
“We are going to die,” someone said.
“We were always going to die, you moron,” someone else answered. “We’re just going to die sooner this way.”
“Silence!” Scorpius barked again. “The second level has been taken.”
Greshyn turned her back on the stream of scared-looking techs scrambling through the door and stared down the hallway, wondering for what might have been the thousandth time how they had wound up here, junior officers assigned to defend a remote research laboratory, doomed to fight an unwinnable battle. They had been the shining stars for so many cycles, the ones who always succeeded, who were promoted the most quickly, envied by all of their peers. From the time they were junior cadets, their lives had always been full of the promise of advancement. They had even talked of all three of them eventually making it to High Command. Despite enduring four cycles of the most hazardous types of duty, she still had moments like this when she could not quite believe that their careers had gone so far astray. How had they gone from the heights to the depths so quickly? Where had they gone wrong?
It had not been their recreational preferences. No one in the Peacekeepers cared if three female officers chose to recreate together. As long as they did not allow their biological urges to interfere with the performance of their duties, they could frell drannits for all anyone cared. And their problems had not begun when Ssezzin had initially refused an assigned birthing. She had gone to her superior and had filed a request for exclusion, precisely as dictated by official protocol, in the same way that hundreds of other females requested exclusions when they wanted to remain on active duty with their units.
Of course, Ssezzin being Ssezzin -- which was to say that she had a talent for being obstinate to the point of foolishness -- she had taken her resistance one step further. When her exclusion had been denied, she had failed to appear at the designated time and place for impregnation. Even that was not unusual, however. It was one of the few types of insubordination that was tolerated aboard a command carrier. Command understood that females bred and raised to be soldiers would resist being taken off flight or combat status. They were accustomed to running into resistance, and there was no stigma attached to it as long as the officer went along quietly when a pair of guards appeared to escort her to the Medical Sector.
But then Ssezzin had lost the baby. No testimony from the medical specialists or from Ssezzin had made a dent in Command’s belief that it had been deliberate. In light of her insubordination prior to her impregnation, her guilt was considered irrefutable. Command’s decision was rendered quickly, decisively, and without option for an appeal. Ssezzin was charged with aborting an assigned birthing, found guilty, and demoted from Lieutenant to Sub-Officer. They skipped right past the option of reducing her to a Flight Officer and assigned her to a ground combat unit instead, throwing away cycles worth of training. The message was clear. She would be allowed to give up her life in the service of the Peacekeepers. It was a slow motion death sentence.
Her relationship with Greshyn and Olpin had been examined as well. The verdict was that the three had allowed their feelings for each other to interfere with their duty as Peacekeeper officers. Their punishment was the same as Ssezzin’s: demotion to a combat unit.
Standing before several hundred assembled officers and having her rank insignia torn off had not been half as bad as facing her mother.
“Imbecile!” the Chancellor had screamed at her while she stood at service stance. “Twenty cycles of planning, of maneuvering, of watching over the three of you, and you throw it away in an instant! Over what? Over the prospect of spending a few solar days putting up with a geometric pregnancy? I have mentored idiots!”
“Permission to speak, sir,” she had requested.
“Denied! There is nothing you can say that can possibly make up for this debacle. No excuse, no explanation!” Her mother stalked from one side of the room to the other, hands clenching and unclenching in rage, looking thoroughly deranged. If it had been anyone other than her mother, Greshyn would have drawn her weapon and assumed a defensive position. “You have no idea what this has cost me! You have destroyed everything!”
“Ssezzin did not --” Greshyn had begun, intending to say that she did not believe her lover had aborted on purpose.
“Silence!” her mother had screeched, and then had gone off on a tirade that had lasted half an arn.
Far too late to warn her comrades or to do anything differently, she had learned that Ssezzin’s had not been an assigned birthing to fill the combat ranks. It had been a specific breeding, a blending of genetics with a precise goal in mind. Ssezzin was related to a former Grand Chancellor, she was a fierce, highly skilled fighter, she was intelligent, and she was gorgeous -- a rare combination of traits that too many high-ranking officers coveted. It was her genes they had been after. Someone had wanted a son with the right mixture of looks, intelligence, and abilities that would have allowed him to rise to the top in record time. The fetus had represented much more than just a potentially brilliant and accomplished Peacekeeper officer. Unbeknownst to all but a very few individuals, it had been the culmination of several cycles worth of deals, favors, and maneuvering among the highest ranks of the Peacekeeper hierarchy. Someone very highly place had been covertly attempting to establish a dynasty. The child was to have been a successor.
The termination of the pregnancy had toppled the entire secretive structure, which had, in turn, triggered a massive shift in influence and power. Half a cycle after Greshyn’s demotion, Chancellor Mele-On Grayza was reassigned to an insignificant planet on one of the most distant boundaries of Peacekeeper space. A quarter cycle later, she disappeared and had not been heard from since. Officers’ careers were cut short; others ascended. Scorpius reappeared from a remote and resource-starved facility as if conjured by a magician. Everyone in a position that dealt directly with the Hynerian Empire was replaced. There were coups on several dozen planets. The repercussions from what Greshyn had initially thought was an insignificant event continued for over three cycles.
None of that had mattered to her at the time. She and her friends had been coping with their own share of problems. Stripped of her mother’s covert guardianship and assistance, Greshyn, Olpin, and Ssezzin had resorted to calling in every favor they had garnered in order to get the three of them assigned to the same unit. It had cost them dearly. In order to stay together, they had been forced to accept front line positions in the war against a newly encountered species known as the skrimm.
Over the past four cycles since their demotions, the three of them had survived over a dozen major battles. Greshyn was not sure how they had made it through so many routs alive. Every encounter with the skrimm had turned into a crushing defeat. As far as anyone could tell, the skrimm were impervious to most Peacekeeper weapons, even the latest models. It took three or four soldiers firing at a single skrimm simultaneously with their most powerful rifles in order to destroy one … which might be why the three of them had lived when so many had died. They continued to fight as a unit, always watching out for each other, always as a team.
A body slammed into the barricade beside Greshyn, startling her out of her reverie. The heavy rifle she carried had snapped into position against her shoulder and was swinging toward the threat before she had time to assess what was going on, instinct and cycles worth of training taking over before her brain had engaged.
“Friend!” the person said in a shrill, terrified screech. “Don’t shoot!”
It was one of the techs. Greshyn did a fast visual sweep of the entire underground corridor, end to end, and realized that only microts had passed while she was reliving their past. It had felt more like half an arn. Techs were still scampering through the open hatch behind her, taking up positions alongside the soldiers who were spread out along what was about to become a long narrow battlefield.
Greshyn looked for her friends. No one had moved. Ssezzin was right where she had been before Greshyn allowed her attention to wander. She was on the right side of the corridor, three motras ahead of Olpin, hunkered down behind a barricade consisting of large chunks of ferro-ceramic, showing a tech how to charge and arm a pulse rifle. Ssezzin glanced up, saw Greshyn watching her, grinned, and flicked a series of hand signals at her.
“Maybe I can throw him out in front of me as a shield,” the hands said.
“More use than letting him fire that rifle,” Greshyn sent back.
Ssezzin smiled, and went back to teaching the tech how to use the weapon. Greshyn watched her for several more microts, mourning everything they had been and should have become.
Ssezzin had been the most beautiful of the trio. She still was, but only from the left side. She had lost her right eye in one of their first battles against the skrimm. Now, the right side of her face was a maze of scars and she wore a cybernetic implant. Where there once had been an intensely dark blue eye that Greshyn thought was one of the most beautiful things in the universe, there was now a gleaming metallic orb. She still loved Ssezzin as profoundly as ever. Nothing could ever change that. The only difference was that she ached with grief every time that eye looked her way. She wondered if there was something she could have done differently, if she could have avoided their current situation.
Ssezzin looked toward her again, raised an eyebrow in question. “What’s the matter?” the look asked.
“Nothing. All’s well,” she sent back with a hand signal.
A flicker of motion to her right caught her attention. Olpin, also on the right side of the hallway but closer to Greshyn, sent, “Afraid?”
“No. Sorry that we’re here.” She wanted to live. She wanted to spend tens of cycles with Olpin and Ssezzin, living, laughing, and loving; tumbling about in bed with them, happy and ecstatic, perhaps even growing old together. She had never dreamed it would end like this.
“Fate,” Olpin signaled. “We’re together. All that matters.”
Some days it felt like it was Ssezzin’s fault that they had ended up here. On days like today, it simply felt like fate. Lousy fate, perhaps, but nothing they could have avoided. The loss of the pregnancy should not have been punished so severely. Other officers had lost children, some under more suspicious circumstances than Ssezzin. No one had ever been disciplined this severely. They had stood at a crossroads of events, and had not known it. Ssezzin’s assigned birthing had merely been the fulcrum upon which every other event rested. The scales had tipped, dozens of levers had applied their force upon whatever person or event rested at the far end, and she and Olpin and Ssezzin, standing where all the levers intersected, had been crushed under the combined weight.
Olpin and Ssezzin were still waiting for her reply.
“Together. Always together,” Greshyn sent back. The other two nodded and went back to making sure the techs crouched beside them knew how to fire their weapons. Greshyn did the same.
“Name,” she said the male kneeling beside her. He was interon, or at least half-interon. There was a vague, indistinct memory that there had been a sebacean-interon working at the facility, the son of one of the original researchers here.
“Everyone calls me Jek,” he said.
“Calls you Jek?”
“Short for something much, much longer.”
“You can tell the whole thing tomorrow, if we’re still alive,” she said.
He nodded, looking as though he was going to be sick to his stomach.
“Interon mother,” she said, curious if she had remembered properly.
“Yes. And yes, I’m the half-breed,” he said, suddenly behaving more aggressively.
“Hang on to that anger. You’re going to need it very soon. Use it.” She checked his weapon. He had primed it properly, and the safety protocols had been released correctly. “Ever fire one before?”
Another nod. “Just a couple of times though.” His voice cracked and wavered, and he looked frightened out of his wits.
“That’s good. That will help.” She edged up to where she could look over the top of the mound of rubble, and began pointing down the corridor. “We blew up all the other access tunnels except the one at the end.”
“That’s where all this came from?” He pointed toward the heaps of debris that were spaced down the hallway, and the dust that coated every surface.
“Yes. The point is that they can only get in here one way, which is at the far end. It’s a choke point. Do you understand?”
“Our job is to prevent them from reaching the research facility. At all costs. The weapons research must not be destroyed. That research is our only hope of developing a weapon that can defeat the skrimm. Understand?”
“Yes,” Jek said in a whisper. “I understand.”
“Easy, right? Just keep them out of there.” She pointed over her shoulder with her thumb.
“Easy,” he said, agreeing. After a pause, he whispered, “I was a researcher. I’m good at it. I’m smart. I should be in there, with the others.” Several tears streaked down his cheeks.
“Third level has been taken. Prepare,” Scorpius’ voice said into her ear.
“Two things,” she said to Jek. “Keep firing even if other people are firing. It takes four or more of us hitting them simultaneously to kill a skrimm.”
“Shoot a lot.” His nod had become frenetic. It looked as though he could not stop the fast, jerking motion. “What else?”
“Shoot the skrimm. Don’t shoot anyone in front of us. They’re our friends.”
He struggled to swallow, tried a grin, and then looked like he was going to vomit. “Got it.”
Greshyn sent up a prayer to whoever might be paying attention that he would not piss himself in fear. Battle was bad enough without having to kneel or crawl around in someone else’s urine. She flattened herself into position against the small hillock of rubble, hugged her rifle to her cheek, took a deep breath, and let it out. As she exhaled, it began.
Someone at the far end of the hallway, closest to the junction where the skrimm would emerge from the upper levels, yelled something unintelligible and began to fire. Return fire from the skrimm hammered into the hallway, ricocheting off walls, whanging and exploding, showering everyone in rock dust and fragments. Dirt, smoke, and the oily clouds of expended chakan oil began to fill the tunnel. A figure loomed into sight at the far end of the corridor. Greshyn began firing. She did not have to worry that it might be a member of her squad. Anything more than a motra off the floor would be skrimm. Pulse fire accelerated. Balls of energy streaked down the tunnel, all headed for the same point. There was an enormous flash of light, blinding her for an instant, and then there was another huge hulking shadow, larger and closer than the last.
“Fire, fire, fire!” someone yelled. “Increase rate of fire!”
There were energy blasts everywhere, going in all directions. A scream and an explosion. A pulse weapon had been hit and had blown up. Part of the roof caved in. Another flash of light, another skrimm destroyed, bringing the tally to two. Greshyn shifted to the left, trying to align her blasts with the position ahead of her, trying to concentrate the energy. Another scream. The first position at the head of the corridor was overrun. The skrimm advanced. Jek was still beside her, crying in terror but firing steadily despite that. He got up onto his knees, pulling at the trigger of his rifle as fast as his finger could move, even faster than Greshyn. She started to tell him to keep his head down. It was too late. His body slumped to the floor. There was nothing above the shoulders.
The entire tunnel shook. The far end of the corridor disappeared in a cloud of flame, dust, and smoke. A skrimm wallowed into view, much closer than they had been microts before. They had blasted through the wall halfway up the corridor from a parallel passageway. The front positions were now pinned between two masses of skrimm, cut off.
“Hit it!” Greshyn shouted, forgetting that her battle comms would carry her voice to the rest of the squad. There were only five positions between the skrimm and the hatch leading to the labs and the rest of the facility. Everyone concentrated their fire on the lead skrimm. It died in a flash of light and an explosion. Greshyn ducked, covering her eyes. When she looked again, a firing position and the two people behind it was gone, obliterated by the blast.
“Ssezzin!” Olpin yelled. “Ssezzin!”
Greshyn stared at where Ssezzin had been, temporarily unable to process that nothing remained of the defensive position or the two people kneeling behind it, and then numbly continued firing. There was nothing else she could do. Another skrimm appeared and then another. They were jammed four and five across, filling the tunnel from side to side. There were not enough rifles left to kill them.
“Olpin, fall back!” Greshyn called. “Fall back!”
Olpin bolted, headed for Greshyn’s position, and a skrimm charge caught her square in the back. She flew, tumbled, hit the floor, and suddenly there was nothing but a limp uniform and smoking armor lying against the wall. It looked as though someone had casually tossed a heap of rags into the corner.
“Olpin!” Greshyn cried out. The two syllable scream tore at her throat, lungs, and heart. She put every bit of her anguish into the drawn out howl, crying out not just for Olpin, but Ssezzin and everything else they had lost over the last several cycles.
It was over. She was still firing, as were the other survivors around her, but as far as she was concerned, her life was over. Ssezzin and Olpin were gone, lost in the space of a few microts. She gathered her feet under her, preparing to charge the skrimm head on, intending to join her two friends in death. It would be a joy, a mercy, a delight.
She jumped to her feet, took a step forward, and was knocked onto her back by an explosion. The explosions continued. Not explosions, she realized in a dazed fashion after several microts. Energy bursts. Energy releases accompanied by blinding flashes of light. Perhaps reinforcements had arrived. The demented flibisks were back inside her chest. Hope fluttered into life. Scorpius had managed to find reinforcements.
It took three tries before she could get her stunned body to roll over onto her stomach. She squirmed forward, resuming her position behind her mound of debris, and then wriggled upward until she could peer over the top. The skrimm were dying, just as she had guessed. She watched, still dazed and more than a little confused, as a streak of colored light swooped out of the ceiling of the tunnel and streaked into the middle of the nearest skrimm. She was not sure what happened next. It looked as though the skrimm burst … or exploded … or something. All along the tunnel the same thing was happening. The skrimm were being attacked and were dying, some in an intense flash of light, some in magnificent explosions. Sections of ceiling fell in. She watched with dismay as an entire segment came down, burying Olpin. Craters appeared in the floor. A section of wall crumbled, threatening to bring down everything above it. The corridor shook and bounced in response to the destruction. Greshyn clamped her forearms over her ears, hunkered down behind her protective pile of dirt, and spent the time wondering if the entire level was going to collapse.
After twenty microts of bedlam, the hallway suddenly went quiet. Greshyn lowered her arms and sat up, not sure what to expect.
“Cease fire. Do not fire. I repeat, do not fire,” Scorpius’ voice said over the battle comms. “All units acknowledge my orders. All units, secure your weapons.”
Greshyn keyed her comms. “Acknowledged. Secure weapons. Do not fire.” She engaged the safety on her weapon, just to be sure it could not go off, and then got to her feet, shaking and confused. A pitifully small number of other figures were doing the same. They walked toward her, some stumbling, some stopping to kneel beside fallen comrades. Greshyn went to where Olpin lay. Most of her was buried under chunks of ceiling. Only her head and arm were visible. Greshyn knelt down and took Olpin’s hand in hers. It was still warm. She waited, half expecting her friend to open her eyes, grin up at her, and say, “Would you get this frelling mess off of me? I need to piss,” as she had on one other occasion.
Olpin did not open her eyes. She remained still. There was no pulse in her wrist. Greshyn rubbed the heel of one grimy hand across her eyes, scrubbing hard at the sting of tears. There was a distant boom, the floor shook, and a cloud of dust billowed into the corridor at the far end. She wondered if more skrimm were advancing, and discovered that she did not care.
Greshyn’s battle comms crackled for a moment. “We had to blast our way through a roof fall,” said a voice that was not Scorpius’. “Coming in now. Nobody shoot. We’re the good guys.”
Footsteps echoed in the distance. Rubble clattered and squealed against the tunnel surface. Two figures strode slowly out of the dust and the gloom, sebaceans, one male and one female. A microt later, more people appeared. There were several luxans and a small number of nebari. Greshyn stood up in order to get a better look. The sebacean male led the way with the female to one side and a scant half step behind. They were both tall, well built, wore black leather pants and long overcoats, and carried the old style pulse pistols. They advanced along the corridor cautiously, checking to make sure there were no further threats, but without any overt sign of fear. They moved in perfect partnership, never bumping into each other, anticipating each others movements, aware of what the other was doing without looking.
A thought about them niggled at Greshyn, some piece of information from the past that refused to be captured. It tickled at the back of her mind, suggesting that if she had enough time to sit and think about it, to rummage through her memories, she would know who they were.
They came to a stop three motras from where Greshyn and the other survivors stood. The female turned to the small group trailing behind them. “Clear the entire complex to make sure they got all of the skrimm. If you find any, do not engage. Retreat and let us know. We’ll request another attack to take care of them. Understood?”
One of the luxans nodded. “No casualties,” he said.
“We don’t want to lose anyone,” she said. “We haven’t had any losses yet. Let’s keep it that way.”
“We’ll check for wounded,” one of the nebari said.
The group split up, disappearing into corridors and through the holes that the skrimm had blasted in the walls, spreading out to search for survivors of all types. Several of the nebari began working their way slowly up the hallway, checking for wounded. Everyone in the corridor with the exception of Greshyn had at least minor wounds and was escorted toward the surface of the planet. One hundred microts later, she found herself standing alone except for the two sebaceans.
“No injuries?” the male said to Greshyn.
“No.” She looked at where Olpin and Ssezzin lay and did not attempt to explain that she had been fatally injured this day. She had lost two-thirds of her self. It was impossible to go on living this way. The first tears threatened to break loose. The lump in her throat made it impossible to speak, which was good since if she tried to say something, she was sure she would start screaming.
The armored door behind her clanged, rattled as the catches were released, and swung open. Scorpius emerged and walked toward them. “This is unexpected.”
“Grasshopper,” said the male. He tilted his head to one side slightly, acknowledging Scorpius’ presence. “It’s been a while.”
Scorpius stepped to one side, to where he could get an unobstructed view of the entire hallway, and surveyed the scenery. It went on long enough that Greshyn had time to figure out that he was searching for something.
“Problem?” the stranger asked.
“There seem to be several people missing.”
“They’re taking care of your wounded.”
“That’s not what he means,” the female said quietly.
She had moved closer to the male. Their bodies were communicating again, sending and receiving small signals, in perfect partnership. Greshyn felt as though the grief would destroy her. It threatened to grind her down into insignificant shards that could no longer support life. She had shared that type of silent communion for so many cycles. It had bored on telepathy. Theirs had been three souls so perfectly in harmony that words were frequently not required. They had simply known what the others were thinking. Greshyn watched the silent conversation, could not read the messages being transmitted, and ached to have Olpin and Ssezzin by her sides.
The male’s gaze flicked to the woman at his side, and then back to Scorpius. Enlightenment struck; it showed in his eyes. “You’re not talking about reinforcements. You mean kids.”
Scorpius said, “I heard that you had several offspring.”
“I’ve been known to do some stupid things in my day,” the male said, “but I draw the line at bringing my children into a war zone. We left them somewhere safe.” He made a show of looking Scorpius over from head to foot. “Some place where you will never get close to them.”
A new entity had joined them in the now-quiet corridor. Hatred, thickly interlaced with anger, flooded outward from the male. For a moment, Greshyn was certain that Scorpius was about to die. In that instant, in the moment that it took for Greshyn to move one step back to get clear of any pulse weapon fire because she was convinced that Scorpius would be dead within the next microt or two, she realized who had come to their rescue.
It was the animosity that gave her the critical clue she required; it was the thick aura of dislike emanating from the male that triggered her memory. It did not matter that everything had happened before she was born. Once she had learned that her mother had been involved, Greshyn had searched for every bit of information available on the events that had taken place twenty cycles ago.
Greshyn’s head spun slightly. It felt like a mild case of oxygen deprivation -- just bad enough so it was difficult to think but not so severe that it would knock her off of her feet. If someone had told her that Djanca Bruz had intervened on her behalf, it would have been easier to believe. Everyone she had ever talked to about them was convinced that they were either dead or had left the Uncharted Territories and Peacekeeper-controlled space forever, disappearing into the vastness of deep space in pursuit of peace and a new beginning. The truth rattled her universe, shook both it and her body to their foundations.
She was standing within an arm’s length of John Crichton and Aeryn Sun.
“Why?” Greshyn blurted out before she had a chance to think. She looked at Scorpius, half expecting him to execute her on the spot for speaking without permission.
John Crichton’s eyes swiveled in her direction. “Why you? Why here?”
Greshyn watched Scorpius for a moment, waiting for some indication whether she should reply or not. When nothing happened, she said, “Yes. Why did you save us?”
“Excellent question,” Scorpius said.
“Coincidence,” Crichton said.
“It was the largest gathering of skrimm ships we could locate,” Aeryn Sun said.
“Demonstration of overwhelming force,” Scorpius said.
Crichton gave him a single nod. “Send the bastards home with their tails between their legs.”
“Why help in the first place?” Scorpius asked. Understanding crept into his expression, and he continued before anyone else could offer an explanation. “You did not do this for us. You did it because they were threatening either your family or your home.”
Crichton stared at Scorpius for several microts, a series of emotions flickering by so fast that Greshyn could not catch them all, let alone decipher what he was thinking. He eventually settled on a single expression that she thought might be a combination of loathing and fear. A moment later, he looked down at the pulse pistol in his hand, staring at it as though it held the answer to a problem.
“You cannot shoot him,” Sun said. “You agreed.”
Crichton turned toward Sun, putting his back to Greshyn. She had to strain to hear what he was saying. “He knows too much. You heard what he just said. He knows we’re somewhere within range of this planet.”
“It does not matter,” Sun said. “After today, he will no longer be a threat. You were the one who convinced me of that. Do not shoot him now. Not after we have gained so much.”
Crichton stood with his head hanging for several microts, then nodded twice and jammed his pulse pistol into its holster with a vigorous thrust. He spun back so he was facing both Scorpius and Greshyn. “You’ve heard of collateral damage? Call this collateral benefit. Saving your ass in the process was entirely unintentional.” He flicked a quick look toward Greshyn. “Not yours. We’re glad to help anyone except Nosferatu over there.”
Scorpius let out a long, hissing exhalation. “You have developed a weapon.”
From the first moment she figured out who they were, Greshyn’s attention had been focused entirely on Crichton and Sun, to the exclusion of proper combat readiness. An entire battalion of skrimm could have marched into the base and she would not have noticed. She knew that she was captivated by their presence and did not attempt to fight free of her fixation. She noted every small shift of their bodies, the way they moved, how their coats shifted and fluttered each time they moved, and how they seemed to function as a single entity. For a short time, she was in the presence of legends come to life, and she wanted to imprint every single microt of the experience permanently on her memory.
Scorpius’ short comment jolted her out of what felt like a hypnotic spell. His voice had changed. It had shifted from his usual casual disinterest to a tone that overflowed with avarice. The accent was the same, as were his choice of words and relaxed, almost languid delivery. What had changed, and had jerked Greshyn’s attention back to her commanding officer, was the underlying motivation in his voice. Scorpius either had not bothered or was unable to conceal that he wanted Crichton’s weapon, badly enough that she had no doubt he would stop at nothing to get it. If he had spoken to her in that tone of voice, she would have been tempted to draw her weapon and shoot him on the spot.
She began to understand Crichton’s loathing. Crichton, on the other hand, seemed unbothered by the statement or the tone of voice. If anything, it had given him strength … or resolve. Greshyn went back to watching Crichton and Sun, intrigued by their reactions to Scorpius.
“No, I haven’t,” he said. “I got tired of watching you flail around, throwing other species into the path of the grimms --”
“Skrimm,” Sun said quietly, correcting him.
Crichton continued as if he hadn’t heard her. “-- in an attempt to stop them. I had just about had enough of your Machiavellian bulldren when you deliberately wheeled the grimm advance so it ran over the illonic colonies. Forty billion people, Scorpius. Their military couldn’t stand up to the grimms and you knew it ahead of time. They didn’t have a prayer. Forty billion illonics wiped out in a matter of solar days, all because of your quest for power.”
“My quest for peace, John.”
“Peace, my ass. It’s been twenty cycles and you still haven’t figured it out,” Crichton said. “You still don’t understand that entire civilizations are not chess pieces to be sacrificed like pawns. Two decades of rubbing shoulders with the eidelons hasn’t been enough to convince you that throwing forty billion living, breathing, innocent people to the wolves won’t buy you peace.”
“I was not attempting to buy peace with that maneuver, John. I was after time. All we need is --”
“All you need is a bigger, badder weapon in order to win the war,” Crichton said, raising his voice to a shout. “All you need is something worse than wormholes, something that can devour every single living grimm in a single gulp and leave the rest of the universe unscathed.” He took several steps to one side in order to kick a piece of rubble down the corridor. “You never learn, do you? This is who you are and it’s never going to change. I thought you had finally figured it out when you realized that wormhole weapons weren’t the answer, but you’re back to the same old crap as the first day I had the bad luck to cross paths with you.”
“The Peacekeepers are no longer the force they once were, John. We cannot win this war by weight of numbers. The skrimm do not conquer; they annihilate. We must have superior weapons.”
“No, you don’t need a superior weapon, you demented bastard. What you need are superior allies. What you needed was to make friends with the species that consider the grimms --”
“Skrimm,” Scorpius said, correcting him.
“-- a light tasty snack, to be snapped up like party mix.”
“High Command has approached every species with adequate forces to --”
Crichton waved him into silence. “Give it up. You don’t have the right circuits in your head to ever understand this. The language you speak” -- Crichton stepped close and hammered two rigid fingers into the center of Scorpius’ forehead, indicating that he was referring to the half-breed and no one else -- “doesn’t cover what I’m talking about. It’s not about adequate forces. It is about finding the right allies.”
“John, you must give us --”
“I must give you absolutely nothing. The war is already over. The skrimm are finished. The fleet above this planet has been destroyed. In one or two solar days, they will be falling back to their own territory all along the front. Any units that do not will be wiped out to the last skrimm. Listen carefully, Scorpius. The war is over. We are going to evacuate this research facility and then we are going to destroy it. No more big shiny weapons built just for you. No more fighting. No more killing billions.”
Greshyn risked another question. “How?”
Aeryn Sun turned to look at her. “How are we killing the skrimm?” she asked, verifying the question.
“The skrimm are primarily energy.” Crichton continued to stare at Scorpius, speaking to him instead of Greshyn. She remained silent.
“Encased in an organic matrix that can be modified or repaired within microts,” Scorpius said.
“Which is why they’re impervious to most weapons and so difficult to kill,” Sun said.
“And the eidelons were no help because no one lives long enough to communicate with a skrimm. If you see a skrimm, a few microts later, you’re dead,” Crichton said.
“Yes, yes.” Scorpius grimaced, as if to say that the two were wasting his time. “We are well aware of these factors. The research being conducted at this facility was focused on developing a weapon that could destroy the organic elements and dissipate the energy all at once, otherwise the skrimm can re-coalesce its energy and build a new external matrix out of whatever matter is at hand. You state the obvious, John.”
Crichton gazed at him for several microts before turning to look at Sun. “He’s not as bright as everyone thinks.”
“Or else he does not know about the energy riders,” she said. “I had never heard of them until you mentioned them as a possibility.”
“You would think that a guy who gets around the universe as much as he does, sticking his nose into everyone’s business, would have come across them by now.”
She nodded, a faint hint of a smile appearing in the muscles around her eyes. “You would think so,” she said, agreeing. “Perhaps he needs to get out more.”
Crichton gave Sun a quick, glancing kiss, and then addressed Scorpius. “Grasshopper, brace yourself. You are about to meet a new species.” Crichton clapped Scorpius on the shoulder, and then moved past him, headed deeper into the complex. “Before you do, I have a confession to make.”
Scorpius turned, watching Crichton’s progress down the corridor, and waited.
Crichton paused beside Greshyn. “Go,” he said quietly, gesturing toward where the research labs were located. “You won’t want to stay for what comes next.”
She hesitated, looking toward Scorpius, her commander. Sun stepped around Crichton and took Greshyn by the elbow. “Come with me. You have no reason to trust us, but just this once you need to ignore your training and simply do what we say.”
Greshyn looked into the other woman’s eyes and found something there that she had difficulty identifying. It took several microts to recognize that it was compassion. She would have identified it more quickly if it had been Olpin or Ssezzin standing next to her, urging her to simply accept their direction without an explanation. They had loved her. Coming from a complete stranger, it was impossible to comprehend. She did not understand why Aeryn Sun cared about her.
Greshyn stalled for time. She knew she could solve the puzzle if she were given enough time. Clearly there was a piece that she had overlooked. “My friends,” she said, gesturing toward where the bodies were half- hidden under a mound of rubble. The delaying tactic did not work out as she had planned. Grief returned in a rush. She was swamped under a surge of memories, of loving moments that she would never experience again, of two lives wiped out prematurely, of fate turning their lives inside out just when they thought they had the future safely in their grasps. She could not leave them. Not yet. She began to cry.
“What is about to happen here will not damage them,” Sun said. She did not seem to notice Greshyn’s tears. “They are at peace. Come with me now. We will help you retrieve them later. There will be plenty of time for that.” She took Greshyn’s pulse rifle away from her, and gave her another gentle nudge, encouraging her to turn away.
Greshyn allowed herself to be guided and fell in beside Sun, unsettled by her illogical reaction to the reassurances but somehow certain that this was the right thing to do. Aeryn Sun was a former Peacekeeper soldier, she reasoned. She had been born on a command carrier, had received the same upbringing and training that Greshyn had received, had become a pilot, had been in combat. She understood what it meant to lose comrades in battle. It was that common experience that she was responding to, not compassion. That made more sense.
She looked back as Crichton began to speak to Scorpius again.
“I had to make some sacrifices in order to form the allegiances we needed to stop the grimms,” he said.
“Skrimm,” Scorpius said automatically, then added, “Officer Sun’s comments. You had to guarantee not to take my life.”
Scorpius gave Crichton a leering, cadaverous smile. “You must have been disappointed.”
“I’ll get over it.”
“There were other concessions,” Scorpius said, theorizing.
“Correct again. One person had to be sacrificed in order to defeat the skrimm. One,” Crichton said, holding up a single index finger. “I sacrificed one person, not forty billion.”
“That is math, not morals, John.”
“That is an acceptable loss,” Crichton said. “Maybe even a benefit to the universe.”
“You are, of course, referring to me,” Scorpius said.
Crichton stepped close to Scorpius. He tugged at the hardened leather covering the half-breed’s shoulders, settling the wing-like layers into place, then flicked several bits of dust and dirt off of the gleaming cooling suit. “Yes,” he said once he had finished.
“I am still alive, John. And you have already said that you agreed not to take my life.”
Crichton shrugged. It was a relaxed, uncaring shrug, one that said he was not bothered by whatever was about to take place. “I agreed that I would not take your life,” he said, emphasizing the second ‘I’. “But you are right. You won’t die, although you may wish that you had.”
“If I am not dead, then I will eventually prevail,” Scorpius snarled.
“Not this time, Scorp.” Crichton clapped him on the shoulder one more time, and then headed for where Greshyn stood at the end of the corridor, walking more quickly and with more purpose than she had seen him move so far. “The price I had to pay to get the energy riders to enter into an alliance with us was the opportunity to taste a creature they have never encountered before. They did not know there was such a thing as a half-sebacean-half-scarran until I mentioned you. My bad.”
“What do you mean by taste, John?” Scorpius called after him.
Crichton motioned Greshyn and Sun through the hatch leading to the labs. He paused, one foot still in the corridor, and yelled loudly in the direction of the ceiling, “Boys! It’s feeding time. Come and get it while he’s hot!”
An instant later, the corridor was filled with flickering light, appearing out of the floor, the walls, the ceiling, out of every surface. Blues, greens, reds, and yellows sailed toward a single point, swooping and diving, racing toward where Scorpius stood abandoned and alone. Greshyn looked back one last time, toward her commander, toward the spot where Olpin and Ssezzin lay, where they had given up their lives in a futile battle, defending a project that had been a waste of twenty cycles worth of effort. The patterns of flickering light began to solidify as they approached Scorpius, sorting themselves out into wings and bodies, into dozens of individuals. The patterns continued to appear, pouring into the tunnel from every imaginable direction, until there were hundreds, possibly thousands crowding together, battling to be the first to reach the black-clad figure, overlapping, merging, racing, eager … hungry.
“Come,” Sun said, tugging at Greshyn’s arm. “Come away.”
She turned away then, finally understanding some portion of what was about to happen, but not before the first of the energy riders reached Scorpius. He lurched, staggered for a moment, and then recovered as one passed through him front to back. Another struck and he staggered again, this time with a small shuddering vibration added in. A third flicker of light and energy hit him, and the impact generated a longer, more violent tremor. He had more trouble staying on his feet. His eyes widened, he gaped at the thickening cloud closing in around him, and then he looked toward where Crichton continued to stand in the hatchway. “John,” he said in a croak. “Please.”
“Goodbye, Scorpius. Nice knowing you,” Crichton said, and swung the door closed.
Greshyn stepped around Sun and motioned for the two to follow her, taking the lead for the first time since Crichton’s force had entered the underground base. Behind her, despite the motras-thick reinforced walls and the heavily armored door, she could hear Scorpius start to scream.