Oathbreaker
by KNS


Our deeds still travel with us from afar
And what we have been makes us what we are.
~ George Eliot

"No, Chiana. Absolutely not."

The grey Nebari danced to keep up with the Luxan, two of her steps to
every one of his long strides. "Why not? Zhaan won't mind -"

"I would mind," D'Argo growled, turning down another of Moya's
corridors.

Chiana squealed and tossed her head. "You are so frelling straight!
Fine, then. If you won't ask Zhaan, I will." She spun on her heel and
turned at the next junction.

Now D'Argo was the one following, trying to keep up. "You can't. I
absolutely forbid you to ask Zhaan -"

"Ask me what?" The Delvian Pa'u stood a little to one side of the
passage the quarreling couple had turned down. "Do you need something?"

"Yeah," Chiana said.

"No," D'Argo barked.

"Not good, not good," Stark tittered, watching them nervously with his
one good eye. "Yes-no, yes-no."

Zhaan put a soothing hand on the Banik's arm. "You seem to be in
disagreement."

Chiana threw up her hands. "All I wanted to do was ask you for a
little love mix -"

"Chiana!" D'Argo snapped.

Zhaan smiled. "Is that all? You should hear some of the things
Crichton's asked for."

Abruptly the comm warbled. "Zhaan? D'Argo?" Pilot asked. "Moya is
receiving a transmission. I think you should go to Command. There's. .
.a ship approaching."

"A ship? What kind of ship?" D'Argo demanded, still frowning at the
Nebari

"Peacekeeper, Moya believes. It's very far out," Pilot answered.

"We'll be right there," Zhaan promised.

"Not good, not good," Stark muttered again.

*

"A prowler," Rygel repeated. "What the yotz is a prowler doing out
here?" He zoomed his thronesled over to Aeryn and peered over her
shoulder at the control station. "What do the sensors say?"

Aeryn glared at him briefly before returning her attention to the
flashing panels.

"Give her a minute, Rygel," Crichton advised. "Pilot, that transmission
- can you put it on the clamshell?"

"Yes, Commander, I. . . think so. It seems to be. . . repeating
itself," Pilot replied. His image wavered out of focus, was replaced by
the face of a Sebacean male in a prowler cockpit.

"Attention Leviathan Moya," the man said, his voice calm and firm over
the connection. "Intelligence reports indicate that you are in the
immediate vicinity. Be aware that I pose no threat to you or your
crew. I am seeking the Peacekeeper Officer Aeryn Sun. Be advised that
I carry an urgent message for her of extreme importance. Attention
Leviathan Moya. . ."

"Letter from home, Aeryn," Crichton said lightly, looking over to the
woman suddenly grown still at the station. "You know him?"

"Why is a Peacekeeper pilot bringing you messages?" D'Argo demanded,
moving to stand behind Rygel.

Aeryn shook her head, but her eyes remained fixed on the repeating image
on the clamshell. "Pilot, send our coordinates to the prowler. When he
comes close enough, deploy the docking web and bring him in."

Vehement disagreements erupted from every side.

"Pilot, belay that order," D'Argo directed. "We are not bringing that
prowler aboard."

"He can't be far from the rest of the boys," Crichton agreed.

"Have you gone completely farbotz to even think such a thing?" Rygel
added, snorting in derision.

"We don't have a choice but to let him come," Aeryn began, tearing her
gaze from the transmission. "He must have something important -"

"Important for who - you?" Rygel interrupted.

Zhaan agreed, "It must be a trap."

The others vocally assented, running over each other with reasons why
they should not only ignore the transmission, but depart the area
immediately.

"We've got to hear what he has to say," Aeryn shouted over the noise.
"He's not a pilot - he's a captain!"

The voices abruptly fell silent.

"How do you know that?" Chiana asked. "I don't see any special
captain's marks on him."

Aeryn mutely looked to Crichton.

"Do as she says, Pilot," Crichton said, rolling his eyes upwards in
frustration or surrender. "But have Moya ready to starburst on a
microt's notice."

"Done, Commander," Pilot agreed. "The prowler is changing course. And
Moya is standing by."

"Not good, not good," Stark mumbled.

"Stop saying that," Chiana told him sourly, accompanying the command
with a sharp smack to his arm.

*

Moya's crew met the prowler pilot with weapons in their hands. When the
bay doors slid open, the first thing the Peacekeeper saw was a handful
of people from various species all aiming dangerous firearms at him; the
sight gave him pause only for a moment. With an arrogant lift of the
chin he strode over to Aeryn, not even glancing at the others after his
first cursory look.

"Officer Sun," the tall man greeted her. "It's not customary to greet a
superior officer over the barrel of a pistol."

"You said you had a message," Aeryn replied, voice as cold as space.
"Let's hear it, and maybe we'll let you live."

The man spread his hands. "I am not armed, as I'm certain your scans
informed you. Ease your weapon."

"Aeryn, you know this frelnick?" Chiana asked, shifting her gaze over
the stranger.

"Shut up, tralk," the Peacekeeper said casually. "I know about you. I
know about all of you."

D'Argo growled menacingly.

"If you know about us, then you know you'd better start talking,"
Crichton warned. "Who is this guy?" he asked Aeryn.

"Rorhen Kune," Aeryn answered. "Captain, Special Ops."

"So you do remember something about your real life," Kune said. Slowly
he began to move past the group, angling further into the bay. "Allow
me to suggest that you lay aside your weapons. Truthfully, I'm only
here to deliver a message."

"You'll understand if we doubt your sincerity," Zhaan said, her blue
lips pressed into a frown.

Abruptly Aeryn dropped her pistol, returned it to the holster at her
knee. "Alright, Kune, talk."

The tall Peacekeeper lifted a laserdriver from the workbench, casually
turned it end over end. "Privately, Officer Sun," he said, casting her
a sidelong look.

Crichton watched Aeryn stride over to the raven haired male. She
snatched the tool from his hands and threw it back onto the bench. "I
have no secrets from these people, Kune, so say what you came to say and
get the frell off our ship."

If Aeryn felt confident enough to yell at the captain without her hand
anywhere near her pistol, then obviously the man wasn't an immediate
threat. Crichton slowly lowered Winona, and the others reluctantly
followed his example. "You'd better speak up, captain. The lady's
getting angry," he advised.

Kune barely spared Crichton a glance. "I must insist on privacy,
Officer Sun." His gaze locked with hers.

Slowly Aeryn began to smile - not a gesture of pleasure or amusement,
but of barely suppressed anger. "Oh, Kune, I'd almost forgotten how
pitifully easy you are to read. This is about the Oltai. There's only
one thing you've ever wanted me for, and that's the Oltai."

"What's an Oltai?" Chiana asked.


The dark haired man folded his arms across his chest. "Don't
overestimate yourself, Officer Sun. You're not special."

"You're lying," Aeryn retorted. "I am special, or you wouldn't be here
now, needing my help. Just like you needed it ten cycles ago."

Emotion finally flashed in the Peacekeeper's eyes. "You were only a
convenience ten cycles ago, Officer Sun, someone assigned to carry out a
mission, and the only thing I ever wanted from you was a bit of
entertainment. It was a dreadfully long, boring transport out to the
Oltai; you were just some piece of tralk I frelled for diversion."

All eyes immediately snapped to Aeryn.

"Don't flatter yourself, Kune," the ex-Peacekeeper coldly returned.
"Everyone was bored on that transport. I frelled all the men on the
team, and a few of the women, too, you stupid dren."

"You always did have a problem with addressing me respectfully, Sun,"
Kune said, taking a menacing step towards her.

Crichton didn't know if Aeryn was bluffing or not, but he did know
captain crunch was about to get a major ass-kicking if he didn't leave
Aeryn alone. "Back off, Peacekeeper," he warned, his hand straying
towards Winona.

"I've had enough of this dren," D'Argo agreed. "Let's get the frelling
Peacekeeper off the ship and leave."

"I've always addressed you as you deserve, sir," Aeryn sneered, making
the last word an insult.

Chiana saw the captain's hands clench into fists. "Hey, Aeryn, he's
getting angry -"

The Peacekeeper sprang forward, seizing Aeryn by the shoulders. He
brought his mouth crashing down over hers, but almost instantly thrust
her away from him, muffling a surprised cry. "You bit me," he said,
dabbing a hand to his lower lip.

"What the hell is going on here?" Crichton demanded.

"It's about pain with him, Crichton," Aeryn answered, not turning her
eyes from the captain. "He thinks pain equals strength."

"And you think being strong means not asking for help," Kune countered.
"Why, Aeryn - why didn't you ask me for help?"

"So I could drag you down with me?" she mocked. "I knew what would
happen. I tried to do as much damage control as possible."

"His pain, her pain, his pain, her pain," Stark mumbled.

"I'll give them both some pain if someone doesn't tell me what's going
on!" Rygel demanded. "Is this some Peacekeeper trick?"

"Stubborn to the last," Kune said sourly. "Same old Aeryn. I am here
to help you, even if you won't ask for it. Let us talk privately for a
while."

"After the stunt you just pulled?" Crichton scoffed. "She won't give
you the time of day after that."

"You have five microts," Aeryn told Kune. "Follow me." She turned and
walked towards the maintenance bay exit, not looking to see if he
followed.

Kune hesitated only a microt before going with her.

"Wait, Aeryn, are you sure this -" Crichton began, but the two had
already left the bay.

"Don't worry, I'll keep watch on them," Rygel promised, zooming his
thronesled after the pair.

"Frell," D'Argo said. "This can't be good."

"We have to trust Aeryn," Zhaan said. "Surely she knows what she's
doing."

Crichton was silent. Chiana moved to pat him on the shoulder.

"Relax, Crichton," the Nebari comforted. "She's obviously already
frelled him, and wasn't impressed. You have nothing to worry about."

"Thanks, Chi," Crichton said sourly.

*

Rygel watched from behind an airvent grill as the two Sebaceans faced
each other. The sound of their voices echoed clearly off the center
chamber's golden walls.

"You look well enough," Kune said.

"Yes, being hunted like an animal has done me immeasurable good," Aeryn
returned. "I assume you have something significant to say."

The captain leaned on the long table between them. "You were right at
first guess, much as I hate to admit it. High Command has learned that
the Oltai are on the brink of making an alliance with the Scarrens.
Should this happen, eight planets - one hundred and eight billion people
per planet - will be added to the Scarren empire. Obviously, we cannot
allow this to take place. You have been assigned to Special Ops for
this mission, under my direct command. Your job is to obtain audience
with the First Leader, assassinate him and his heir. This will allow
another faction to take control, a faction more interested in forming an
alliance with us."

Aeryn shook her head, making her thick braid swing. "I'm not a
Peacekeeper anymore, Captain. Yesterday High Command wanted my head,
and today they want my help. That's very convenient - for them."

"And you as well," the captain commented. "Once a Peacekeeper, always a
Peacekeeper, Aeryn. You swore a blood oath, remember?"

She smacked her closed fist down on the table. "No. I won't kill for
them ever again. Now, if that's all you have to say, then leave."

Kune half turned away from her. Rygel watched him wearily rub his
forehead. "High Command knew you wouldn't come back empty-handed. I
have been authorized to offer you a substantial reward for fulfilling
this task."

Rygel's earbrows perked with interest.

"A bribe, you mean," Aeryn corrected sarcastically.

"Your life," the captain retorted, turning back towards her. "You could
be reinstated, given back your old post and rank and a bonus in salary.
Or, you could have your choice of assignments, even a promotion if you
complete the mission in a timely fashion. Or you could retire with full
benefits."

"Radiation-induced brain fever to bring on the living death," she
muttered, looking at him askance.

"Do you think I would allow that to happen to you, Officer Sun?" he
asked, spreading his hands. "Have I ever given you reason to doubt me?"

Aeryn turned and paced a few steps. "High Command really gave you that
much negotiating power," she said skeptically.

"The Oltai have thrown our ambassadors off their planets. They won't
even grant us long-range talks. We need them on our side, and we are
running our of options." The captain met her gaze fully.

Aeryn slowly let out her breath. "Then I will do it - so long as my
terms are met."

Kune nodded almost eagerly. "Name them."

"There are six other people on this Leviathan," Aeryn said. "I want
their guaranteed safety. I want them to be transferred to their
homeworlds or places of their choosing. I want their entire files
erased from Peacekeeper archives. And I want this Leviathan and her
pilot to be free from Peacekeeper confinement and capture for as long as
she lives."

Rygel almost betrayed himself by cackling with delight.

The captain mutely regarded her for a time, then slowly began to smile.
"You're not serious. Even you aren't worth that much."

She drew herself up proudly, calling his bluff. "I am a Peacekeeper,
worth twenty lives of lesser species."

"You just said you weren't a Peacekeeper," Kune countered. "You can't
have it both ways. But. . .you are a Sebacean. I offer you the
Leviathan and four of the fugitives, none of which can be the human.
That abomination of a half-breed has claimed Crichton, and nothing in
the galaxy can save him."

Aeryn scowled at him, considering his offer. "Five of the fugitives,
Moya and Pilot, and I finish the mission within three solar days of
arrival."

"Not to include Crichton," Kune clarified.

Rygel held his breath.

"No," Aeryn conceded. "Not to include Crichton."

"Done." Kune nodded in satisfaction, then paused. "You do understand
that this bargain makes no provisions for you. I won't have any
authority left to protect you."

Aeryn shrugged. "My life wasn't worth dren before I left the
Peacekeepers, Kune, and it wouldn't be worth dren if I went back."

Kune frowned. "They've done a remarkable job of conditioning you,
Officer Sun. Still, we have a deal. I will give the pilot a set of
coordinates. We should reach Oltai space within two solar days; that
should be enough time to prepare you, so long as we start immediately."

"Wait," Aeryn warned. "This is all conditioned on the others'
agreement. I don't control this ship; I can't force her to go
anywhere. Let me talk to the others before we begin the conditioning."

Rygel scrambled to exit the airvent.

*

The Hynerian was so ecstatic about the possibility of going home, he
blundered out the first words that crossed his mind when he caught up to
Aeryn.

"Are we really going to trust this Peacekeeper to keep his word?"

Instantly Aeryn had her hand around his throat, pushing him back against
one of Moya's golden walls. "What did you hear, you slug?"

Rygel tried to shake his head. "Nothing. . . much."

She glared at him for a microt, then removed her hand. "Not a word,
Rygel, not one frelling word to Crichton or the others. You say
anything, and I'll cut you out of the deal. I'll give Crais your
place."

The Hynerian watched her storm down the passage towards Command. He
believed her threat.

*

"Tell us again, Aeryn," Zhaan said. "Why must it be you?"

Aeryn closed her eyes and leaned on the Command workstation. "We've
been over this twice, Zhaan. The Oltai are shunning the Peacekeepers
and allying themselves with the Scarrens. I go in and take care of the
ruling power so that another faction can take control. The new faction
will fall in with the Sebaceans rather than the Scarrens. Really, it's
very simple."

"Except that it's not," Chiana disagreed. "Zhaan's right - why you?"

"Because, ten cycles ago, I was the one who brought the current faction
to power," Aeryn said, glaring at the Nebari "It's why I will be
granted an audience now with the First Leader - he's probably still
grateful to me for his ascension."

"Gratitude that you'll use to assassinate him," D'Argo growled, shaking
his head. "There is no honor in this plan."

"And what's Captain Crunch going to do for you in exchange for doing his
dirty work?" Crichton asked.

"You frellnicks haven't guessed?" Chiana laughed. "She gets to go back.
. .back to the Peacekeepers. Probably with a promotion for being a good
girl."

The muscles in Aeryn's jaw tightened, but she said nothing.

"I think she should do it," Rygel began, moving his thronesled to
Zhaan's side. "Remember when we had the chance to go home? This is
just like that -"

"Rygel," Aeryn warned.

"-Except now, Aeryn's offering her own arm, and more," the Hynerian
finished quickly. "Shouldn't we support her choice?"

"Generous words from a small heart," Stark mumbled, eyeing Rygel
suspiciously.

"Putting Moya that close to Oltai space could put us all in danger,"
D'Argo said, shaking his head. "I don't think -"

"No, you don't," Aeryn agreed shortly, shoving herself away from the
station. "This is not a discussion. If you don't want to take Moya to
Oltai space, fine. I'll take my prowler. Forget I asked for your
support." She turned and left the Command area, anger etched in every
step.

Crichton was after her in an instant, but had to move quickly to keep
up. "That wasn't fair," he said, catching her arm to stop her.

She jerked out of his grasp. "Truth doesn't need to be fair, Crichton.
It very seldom is."

"What's your problem?" he demanded. "Captain Crunch gets on board, and
suddenly you're following his orders like he's your commanding officer,
and making eyes at him like he's an old boyfriend. The rest of us just
don't trust him as much as you obviously do."

Aeryn curled her lip in disgust. "Grow up, Crichton. I've made an
excellent bargain with Kune, and I intend to keep it. If you and the
others don't like that - too bad." She continued walking down the
passageway.

"And how do you know he'll keep this great deal?" Crichton asked,
keeping pace with her. "What makes you think he won't screw you over as
soon as he gets what he wants?"

"I know Kune," she replied. "As long as I hold up my end of the
bargain, he'll keep his word. Supply offered, demand met."

"A Peacekeeper capitalist. Wonderful," Crichton muttered. "Aeryn, we
just don't want you to get hurt."

She stopped, and he realized they had come to her quarters.

"I appreciate that," Aeryn told him, "but I can handle matters without
assistance. Now, if you want to help me, get Pilot moving on those
coordinates. Conditioning for the Oltai meeting will take several
arns." The grates of her quarters split and opened. She turned and
entered, and the grates shut Crichton out.

The Peacekeeper captain was waiting for her, a large bag in each hand.
"Took you a while," he greeted Aeryn.

Crichton turned away, shaking his head.

*

"They've been in there for arns," D'Argo growled, pacing around the long
table in the Center Chamber. "What the frell are they doing?"

Chiana laughed and ate another food cube. "Come on, D'Argo, you know
what they're doing. Now we know what Aeryn wants in a male - tall,
mean, and powerful. No wonder she doesn't want you, Crichton."

"Thanks, Pip," Crichton muttered around a mouthful of food cube.

They were all gathered in the Center Chamber. Despite the fact that
nearly five arns had passed since the Peacekeeper captain had come
aboard, neither he nor Aeryn had made an appearance since retreating to
Aeryn's quarters.

"I am glad we decided to take Moya rather than send Aeryn alone," Zhaan
said. "Rygel was right - this is her chance to go home."

"Her 'home' consists of thugs and murderers," growled D'Argo. "Will she
one day be hunting us, trying to recapture Moya? Or perhaps they'll
send her back to assassinate us."

"Good to know you think so highly of me." Aeryn stood on the threshold
to the Center Chamber. Her eyes had dark shadows beneath them; her skin
was shiny with sweat, and her dark hair hung in damp tendrils around her
face.

"My dear, you look exhausted," Zhaan said with concern. She rose from
the bench and walked towards the ex-Peacekeeper.

"You look like dren," Chiana clarified. "That captain must really be
impressive."

"Shut up, Chiana," Aeryn said. "You don't know what you're talking
about." She walked towards the plate of food cubes on the table,
stumbled and nearly fell into Zhaan.

"Aeryn-?" the Delvian asked, worry heavy in her tone.

"I'm fine," Aeryn said quickly. "Just hungry."

Crichton took the plate of cubes off the table and brought them to her.
"You don't look fine," he said, offering her a cube. He met her eyes
for a moment before she glanced away. "Hey - what happened to your
eyes? They're purple."

She took the cube from him. "The Oltai First Leader thinks I'm a
halfbreed, part Sebacean and part Oltai. I have to look the part." She
ate the cube and reached for another.

"The Oltai I've seen look very little like Sebaceans," Zhaan said.
"Surely you wouldn't -"


"I'll do what's necessary," Aeryn interrupted sharply. She bean to
reach for another cube, then abruptly put a hand over her mouth.
Turning on her heel, she all but ran from the room.

Crichton shoved the plate at Zhaan and quickly went after her.

"Has anyone noticed how much Crichton follows her around?" Stark
commented.

"He has to," Rygel said smugly. "She's got his minvocks in her hip
pocket."

*

He held her hair back for her while she violently retched into the waste
receptacle. "Aeryn, what the hell is going on?"

She took a shuddering breath and wiped the back of her hand across her
mouth. "It's the. . Oltai hormones. It wasn't this difficult last
time. I think the hormones are reacting badly to the DNA of Pilot's
that I still carry." She retched again, but nothing came up.

"Are you doing this job for yourself, or for that captain?" Crichton
asked.

"You tell me."

Gently he rubber her back. "You were lovers, weren't you?"

"Frell, no," she answered vehemently.

That made him pause. "But he said. . you recreated."

She managed a small, strained laugh. "So? That doesn't mean dren."
She retched again, this time bringing up blood. "This is just about the
deal."

Crichton shook his head. "And what if he doesn't keep his end up?"

"He always keeps his word," Aeryn answered. "It's the one thing we have
in common." Briefly she closed her eyes. "I was bred to be a pilot.
But there are a dozen jobs for pilots with the Peacekeepers, and few of
them are glorious. My goal, my dream had always been to fly prowlers,
my fantasy to be part of a marauder team. I met Kune when I was
fourteen cycles old, a small ways though prowler training. He knew,
somehow, about my dreams. He came to me and said if I didn't recreate
with him, I'd never fly anything by maintenance rigs. He wasn't a
captain then, but he had enough power to make good on his threat." She
retched again, then added, "I was in a prowler within the cycle."

Crichton took a deep breath, fighting down a surge of anger. "Among
humans, we call that blackmail, and when it's with a fourteen year old
girl, we call it rape."

Aeryn weakly shook her head. "Sebaceans are fully mature at twelve
cycles. It wasn't rape. I had a fair choice. It wasn't blackmail."
She coughed. "Besides, I've had revenge on him a dozen times over the
cycles. Kune was never anything to me, but I don't think that's the
case with him."

"He has feelings for you, you mean."

"I believe so."

"You believe so," Crichton echoed. "That's why he asked you why you
hadn't asked for his help. All this time you could have asked him to
give you a hand, and you didn't."

"Not that simple," she said shortly. "He would have owned me forever."
Slowly she climbed to her feet, once upright, she leaned heavily on
Crichton. "I'm alright now," she said, her voice shaky. "I'll be
fine." And she promptly fell back on her knees and began to vomit
again.

*

Two arns later, when Crichton saw Kune walking down the passageway, he
quickly moved to block the captain's path. "Yo, Captain Crunch, let's
have a talk."

"Get out of my way, human," Kune said, scowling darkly. He shouldered
past Crichton.

Crichton caught his arm and made him turn around. "I don't think so.
See, I need you to stop what you're doing to Aeryn. You're hurting
her."

"You really are one of the lesser species, for all that you look
Sebacean," the captain sneered. "Officer Sun is keeping her word. If
she went before the First Leader without a disguise, she would be
executed out of hand. She's a soldier; she knows what is expected of
her."

Meeting the taller man's gaze squarely, Crichton said, "Aeryn was right
- you're really easy to read. You have feelings for her that good
little Peacekeepers aren't supposed to have. How can you do this to
her? Not just the 'conditioning,' but he whole shibang. Making her an
assassin, making her kill for you."

Kune laughed. "You amaze me with your ignorance, human. If you knew
anything about Peacekeepers - if you knew anything about Aeryn - then
you'd understand."

"Oh, I know Aeryn," Crichton returned, his voice heavy with implication.

"Is that so?" Kune said slowly. "With you, a lesser species? You're
lying."

Crichton only smiled.

"Well," the captain said finally. "Well, what a surprise this isn't.
She's a pilot, after all, and when off duty, prowler pilots only do
certain things with objects that interest them. If it's alcohol, they
drink it; if it's edible, they eat it; if it's alive, they frell it.
Life is very simple for them."

"Do not talk about her like that," Crichton warned, and shoved the other
man hard in the chest.

The captain only stumbled back a few steps. "You think you know her so
well, human, then try a small test," Kune challenged. "Ask her how she
got that scar on her left knee. I'll wager she tells you nothing. In
fact, I'll wager her life on it." He turned to walk down the passage.

"Screw you," Crichton said to his back.

*

"Pilot says we'll reach Oltai space within fourteen arns," D'Argo said.
He moved from one Command workstation to another. "The sooner we have
that cretada off Moya, the happier I'll be."

"I assume you mean Captain Kune, not Aeryn," Zhaan said mildly.

"Of course that's what I meant," D'Argo said irritably. "Even if I do
think she's making one hizmana of a mistake."

Zhaan gazed out the forward viewport. "You once asked me what I would
trade for a chance to go home. Do you remember? I told you I'd give my
life. Apparently Aeryn feels the same."

"It isn't her life she's trading," the Luxan disagreed. "It's the life
of an entire race's leader. Assassination." He hissed with distaste.
"Honorless."

Stark said neutrally, "She's not exchanging her life for her freedom. .
.she's exchanging her soul."

"Yotz," Rygel brusquely dismissed. "She's simply fulfilling her end of
a bargain. You're all reading too much into it."

*

"Hey, Aeryn," Crichton said, swinging his hand over the sensor to open
the grates of her quarters. He strode in, saying, "Pilot says we'll
reach Oltai space in about fourteen -" He halted halfway in, surprised
at the sight that greeted him.

Aeryn lay face-down on her bunk, arms at her sides, not a scrap of
fabric on her upper body; a bedsheet was loosely draped from the small
of her back to the back of her knees. Kune was leaning over her exposed
shoulders, a very large scalpel in his left hand and a strip of
silverish metal in his right. Aeryn's skin was molted with fresh
bruises and new cuts.

"Get the hell away from her!" Crichton demanded. "Pilot, get D'Argo and
the others down to Aeryn's quarters now!" He rushed towards the
Peacekeeper, ready to take down the man single-handedly.

"Stay back, human," Kune warned. "I don't want to hurt her - this is
very delicate work."

Aeryn lifted her head to look at Crichton. "John?" she said groggily,
her eyes no more than slits. "It's alright, John. It's just part of
the conditioning."

"Lay still, Aeryn," the captain said. Glaring at Crichton, he gestured
angrily at the door. "Get out, human, and don't come back. One slip of
this knife and her spinal cord will be severed."

Crichton looked from Kune to Aeryn, confused and uncertain.

"Go on," Aeryn said. "I'll find you soon and explain." Her head
slumped back down to the bed.

Still Crichton hesitated.

"Now, Crichton," Kune ordered. "I've got to get this done."

When D'Argo came sprinting down the passageway, he found Crichton
sitting on the deck outside the closed grates of Aeryn's quarters.
"What's happening?"

"Crichton, what is it?" Zhaan asked, appearing from the opposite
direction. "Is something wrong with Aeryn?"

"Yes. No. I don't know," Crichton said, shaking his head. "Kune's in
there. . . operating, or conditioning, ow whatever. She looks
horrible. I thought he was attacking her."

Zhaan peered though the grate. "I can't see anything. . ."

"We can stop him," D'Argo growled, moving towards the door sensor.

"No," Crichton said, scrambling to his feet and catching D'Argo's hand
before it opened the grates. "Aeryn said no."

"Aeryn is a fool," the Luxan snapped.

*

Crichton didn't know what to do. He paced around his quarters,
showered, did some more pacing, cleaned his pistol, shined his boots,
and did some more pacing. At last he dimmed the lights and lay down on
his bunk.

He wasn't certain how long he'd been asleep when her voice came.

"Crichton, it's me. Are you in there?"

He climbed to his feet, went to open the grate.

Aeryn stood in the passageway, swaying slightly in place. Her wet hair
was pulled back in a loose braid; she wore a black robe belted at the
waist, and her feet were bare. Down the sides of her neck ran thin
slips of silver-grey metal, thick as his finger and surrounded by purple
bruises.

"Come and sit down," he offered, swallowing around the emotion lodged in
his throat. He reached out a hand to support her.

She flinched away from it. "Don't. . .don't touch me. The skin is
still very sensitive." She walked a few steps to his bunk, sat down on
its very edge. "Do you have anything to drink?"

He moved to pour her a drink. The door grates quietly hissed closed.
"Water," he said, bringing her the cup. "It's all I've got." He sat
down next to her, careful not to brush up against her. The skirt of the
robe was open on one side; he saw another strip of metal embedded over
the outside of her thigh and leg.

"Good enough." She took the cup, but her hand was unsteady, and she
spilled most of the water down the front of her robe. "Frell."

"What are those things?" he asked, pointing at the metal running from
her wrist to elbow.

"Sense preceptors," she said. "Oltai have external nerves to help them
negotiate the environment. Their eyes see very little, and the light on
their worlds is very dim."

"Does it hurt?" He wondered why he asked when he already knew the
answer.

"It's necessary," she said flatly.

"That's not what I asked," he returned.

"Don't be difficult," she said. "I didn't come here for you to nag at
me." After a pause, she added, "It is extremely painful."

He stood up, careful not to jar her. "I'll be right back. Wait here."

She didn't ask where he was going, and when he came back some time
later, she was sitting in exactly the same position as when he left, not
having moved at all.

He carefully sat down next to her and set a small blue jar beside him.
Gently he took the cup from her hand, then reached for the belt of the
robe.

Her fingers snapped out to seize his wrist in a vice-like grip. "What
are you doing? I'm not wearing anything under this."

"You ain't got nothing I haven't already seen," he said, trying to tease
a smile out of her. She didn't react, so he added, "I brought some
painkiller from Zhaan, ointment made out of that same plant she gave you
for your headaches. Should help with the pain."

"I don't need help," Aeryn said, but released his wrist.

"Of course you don't," Crichton agreed.

When the robe slipped from her shoulders, she grimaced in pain. He
understood why - the twin strips running parallel down her spine had the
flesh inflamed and swollen. "Damn, Aeryn, I'm surprised you're even
conscious.'

"I have had training to handle large quantities of pain," she said
between her teeth. "I am also under heavy anesthetizing agents." Which
didn't stop her from hissing with pain when he began to apply the
ointment.

"This deal with Kune - it's costing you a lot," Crichton said after a
while. "You must really hate it here with us. With me."

She made no answer. He paused to look at her face, thinking she may
have fallen asleep, but her eyes were open wide, staring at nothing.
Tears were running down her cheeks.

"I'm sorry," he offered. "I didn't mean. . ."

"It's not you," she said, her voice steady and normal. "It's the
frelling implants, and the frelling hormones. It wasn't like this last
time."

He nodded, went back to massaging the skin on her back.

"I tried to get Kune to include you in the bargain," she said abruptly,
half turning to face him. "He wouldn't do it. I'm sorry."

"Hey, don't worry about it," he said, flashing her his best boyish
grin. "I'll be fine, especially if I know you're happy, and safe. What
you want matters to me, Aeryn. It matters as much to me as what I
want." He gently kissed her on the forehead, above her left eye.

She smiled at him. "You know, Crichton, among Peacekeepers, kissing on
the mouth is a sign of aggression, of passion or dominance. It's not a
sign of caring or tenderness."

So that was why Gilina had looked at him so oddly the first time he'd
kissed her. It explained quite a bit. "Cultural difference - can't
escape them," he said lightly.

She nodded. "If you want to show that you care for someone, that you
have feelings for them, then you kiss them on the forehead." She
reached up and framed his face with her hands. "Like this." And she
brought his head down to gently brush his forehead, her lips light as a
butterfly's wings.

*

"Captain Kune, we have reached the designated coordinates," Pilot
announced over the comm. "We are on the border of Oltai-designated
space."

"Excellent," Kune said. "Contact Officer Sun and have her report to
docking bay three."

"As you wish," Pilot agreed, a hint of irritation in his voice at being
given orders.

"You order Aeryn around like she's one of you underlings," D'Argo said,
crossing his arms over his chest. "She's not a Peacekeeper anymore."

"I'll tell you the same thing I told her, Luxan," Kune said without
looking at him. "Once a Peacekeeper, always a Peacekeeper."

Zhaan smiled tolerantly at the Sebacean reviewing the prowler controls.
"I would have believed that, had I never met Aeryn Sun. Through her,
the Goddess has shown me that people can change."

"Some people," Stark muttered. "The pure of heart."

"I'll tell you what I think," Chiana said, poking the captain in the
shoulder so that he met her gaze. "I think you're angry that Aeryn
isn't on your team anymore, and this is how you're going to get even.
If she completes her mission, the Peacekeepers will have another
assassin to add to their collection; they'll use her like a tool and
throw her out when she breaks. If she fails the mission, she dies.
Either way, she's frelled."

Kune smiled at her. "Such a beautiful body to house such a stupid
mind."

"Hey, hey, the gang's all here," Crichton said, entering the bay.
"Pilot said we're on target. Where's Aeryn?"

"I'm here."

The creature that walked towards the prowler bore little resemblance to
Aeryn Sun. Dark hair had been bleached to amethyst gray, and was half
drawn back to expose shimmering metal strips on either side of her
neck. Her lips had taken on a bluish tint, her skin a faint purple
hew. Her clothing looked to be made from woven ribbons; vest and
trousers were cut oddly, revealing skin and metal strips in unlikely
places. Even the knee-high boots she wore were made of ribbons, and
resembled sandals more than her customary closed-toe, heavy duty
footwear.

"Beautiful," Stark said, wonder in his voice. "Beautiful creature to do
such an unholy task!"

"Frell, Aeryn," Chiana laughed, "you're the drakest looking assassin
I've ever seen."

"I'll take that as a compliment," Aeryn said. She went to the prowler,
climbed the short ladder, and tossed in a small bag.

Crichton eyes Kune as he watched Aeryn move. The captain frowned and
shook his head. "You're not in character, Officer Sun. Relax your
shoulders, sway your hips more when you walk. Act like a female."

"Hey," Crichton protested on Aeryn's behalf.

Aeryn touched a toggle in the cockpit, then climbed back down the
ladder. "Frell off, Kune. I'm not one of your black ghosts."

Kune met her gaze for a long moment, then dropped his head in
acceptance. "Right, then. Let's go."

"In a microt," she said, moving past him to Zhaan and Stark. "Thanks
you for the ointment," she told the Delvian. "I almost can't feel
anything anymore."

"Not necessarily a good sign," Zhaan answered sagely. "I know you are
set on this course, my dear, so I will not try to dissuade you. But go
quickly, do what you must, and return soon. May the Goddess go with you
and guide your path."

Kune snickered.

Stark glared at him. "You're a bad man."

"Yes, little Bannick," Kune agreed, grinning wolfishly. "I'm a bad, bad
man."

Aeryn turned to D'Argo. "Take care of them, D'Argo. You're the only
soldier left here - don't let them do anything foolish. Especially
Crichton."

"You ask much," the Luxan said, smiling. "Be well, my friend."

"Take Moya and leave as soon as we're gone," Aeryn added. "Don't wait a
microt longer than you must."

"But- but you'll need us here when you get back," Chiana protested.

Kune and Aeryn exchanged glances.

"You-you're not coming back, are you?" the Nebari guessed. "You don't
think you'll come back."

"Alright, that's it," Crichton said. "Scrap the plan. It's not worth
the risk -"

"It is worth the risk," Aeryn said, her voice breaking oddly, making a
growling sound. She cleared her throat, then added, "You taught me
that, John. Hope and freedom are always worth the risk. You all taught
me that." She included the others in her gaze, smiling lopsidedly.

"What's wrong with your voice?" Chiana asked.

"Vocal cord modification," Kune explained. "Oltai don't have the upper
ranges of sound. If she should happen to shriek or scream, they would
know instantly that she isn't one of them."

Crichton rolled his eyes. "Aeryn-"

"I have never 'shrieked' in my life," Aeryn told Kune sharply. Turning
back to Crichton, she said, "This could take me a while, a long while.
I'll find you -"

"We'll wait," Crichton interrupted.

Aeryn shook her head. "Crichton -"

"We'll. Wait," he said slowly, stubbornly. His eyes locked with hers
for a long moment, and then she silently turned away.

"Aeryn- wait, Aeryn." Rygel finally appeared in the bay. He zoomed his
thronesled over to her, scanned her suspiciously from head to heels.
"Purple isn't your color."

"I'll make a note," she snapped, setting her foot on the prowler
ladder's first wrung.

Rygel angled his sled up a few notches. "I wanted to tell you. . ."
For a microt his voice faded; then he added boldly, "Much fortune."

She nodded once, then proceeded up the ladder.

"Aeryn," Crichton called.

"If you don't let her go, human, she'll never get back," Kune grumbled.

Crichton ignored him. "You have a scar on your left knee," he said,
looking up at her. "How'd you get it?"

"I don't-" she began, then stopped. Looking down at him, she said
slowly, "I got it from a lieutenant when I was in prowler pilot
training. He called it something to remember him by."

Crichton glanced at Kune, and there was no mistaking the smugness on his
face.

Kune frowned darkly and looked at Aeryn.

The ex-Peacekeeper split a look between the captain and the human. When
she spoke, her eyes were on the latter, but her words were for the
former. "Don't try to frell me on this, Kune. I won't let you." Then
she stepped down into the cockpit, disappearing from sight.

*

From the forward viewport in Command, Crichton watched the lone prowler
dissolve into the darkness between the stars.

"I still don't know why she took that yotz with her," Rygel said, his
thronesled at Crichton's side. "He can't possibly be a help."

"Kune said his energy signature would be masked by some modification he
made to the engine, and that he would be able to negotiate for Aeryn's
release after the new faction comes to power," Zhaan explained
patiently. "You were there when all was explained."

"Doesn't mean I agreed," the Hynerian grumbled.

"We'll wait for her," Crichton said, still gazing out at the stars.

"Of course we will," D'Argo agreed. "Even if all that returns is her
body."

Chiana looked surprised. "Don't you think she'll make it?"

"Truthfully?" The Luxan shook his head. "Even she didn't think so.
She asked me to make sure she was buried in space, not down on some
planet."

"Why didn't you say something earlier?" Crichton demanded, turning to
face them. "If you all thought she was going to die, why didn't you
stop her?"

"Freedom is the greatest of the Goddess' gifts," Stark said, answering
for them all. "And. . . Aeryn is a very difficult person to dissuade."

*

"Three solar days," Chiana said as she darted into Command. "It's only
been three solar days - how can she be done already?"

"Oh, you know Aeryn," Crichton replied, grinning widely. "Once she's
got a bee in her bonnet, there's no stopping her."

"I have no idea what the frell that means," D'Argo told him, "and
honestly, I don't want to know. Pilot, prepare to deploy the docking
web. Aeryn's prowler is approaching."

"D'Argo, Moya's scans indicate that the prowler is maintaining its
distance," Pilot answered, his image appearing on the clamshell. "Scans
also indicate that. . .there is only one occupant in the prowler."

Zhaan murmured Aeryn's name softly. Beside her, Stark launched into a
half-moaning tirade of negativity.

"Who's in there, Pilot?" Crichton asked steadily.

"Moya doesn't. . .wait. Receiving transmission." Pilot's image
flickered and faded, was replaced by Kune's face.

"Hey Captain Crunch, where's Aeryn?" Crichton demanded before the man
could speak.

Kune's face betrayed no emotion. "I regret to inform you, Crichton, but
Officer Sun is dead. However, she did manage to complete half of her
mission; thus, I will honor half of your bargain. I will arrange safe
passage for the Hynerian and Delvian, as Officer Sun requested -"

"Stop, stop," Crichton said, raising his hands. "What the hell do you
mean, Aeryn's dead? And-"

"Where's her body?" D'Argo demanded. "What's this dren about half a
bargain?"

"I am attempting to explain, so shut up and listen - that includes you,
Bannick," Kune growled. "Officer Sun was killed while carrying out her
mission. Her remains were unavailable for retrieval. As for the
bargain we struck. . ." He shook his head. "Since she did not share
the terms with you, I can only infer she meant to alter the details.
Our business here is at an end. I would advise you to depart the area
immediately. Should you care to know: Officer Sun will be recorded as
killed in the line of duty while on a Special Operations assignment; she
will be not be remembered as a deserter or a traitor, which is more than
any of you could have offered her."

"Enough yotz from you, Peacekeeper," Rygel said, zooming his thronesled
over to the clamshell. "I know all about your bargain with Aeryn. She
negotiated for our freedom, not hers! You promised her our lives if she
would do this assassination dren for you -"

"Rygel, explain yourself," Zhaan ordered.

"I don't have time for this," Kune growled. His image abruptly
disappeared from the shell.

"The prowler is moving out of range," Pilot informed the group. "Shall
Moya pursue?"

"Moya doesn't have any weapons," Chiana said.

"No, but Kune's prowler does," Crichton replied. "Pilot, get that ship
ready."

"I will fly the prowler to retrieve that lying yarbo," D'Argo announced,
pushing past Crichton. "I'll blast the frelling dren out of him for
getting Aeryn killed -"

Crichton cold hear the first edges of hyperrage in the Luxan's voice.
"No way, D, I'm on this. I know how to fly a prowler better than anyone
else. Aeryn showed me."

"Aeryn let you fly her prowler?" Chiana asked. "She never let me fly
her prowler."

"Which never stopped you from taking it," D'Argo returned. To Crichton
he added, "And she always thought you were a slow learner."

"Yeah, yeah, whatever," Crichton dismissed. "But she did tell me about
the new anti-theft mechanism she installed after Chiana's last
escapade."

Zhaan asked, "What does this device do?"

Crichton grinned. "Wonderful things."

*

Within a half arn Aeryn's prowler was back aboard Moya, and so was its
Peacekeeper pilot. After being forced from the cockpit at gunpoint,
Captain Kune found himself marched into the connecting maintenance bay
by an unsmiling Crichton, then driven to his knees by a furious Luxan.
It was Chiana, however, who actually landed the first blow.

The Nebari's fist caught the Sebacean squarely under the chin, snapping
his head back with a loud crack. "I knew you were going to get Aeryn
frelled!"

"Easy, Pip," Crichton said, catching Chiana's arm before she could hit
the man again. "We need to ask the good captain here a few questions,
and to do that, he needs to be conscious."

"Give me a few microts alone with him," Rygel growled. "I'll get the
truth from his lying mouth. Now tell them about the real bargain,
Peacekeeper cretada, or else -!" He cuffed Kune roughly across the
skull with the edge of his thronesled.

Kune grit his teeth and glared at the Hynerian. "I truly don't
understand why she was so set on your freedom, slug. Her contamination
must have been deeper than I suspected. Yes, she argued with me over
the terms of the bargain," he said, turning his glare on D'Argo. "I
came here for her, to offer her a chance to return. She traded away her
one chance for all of you, a ship full of prisoners! I always knew she
wasn't captain material: too willing to sacrifice herself, but not
others."

"Why didn't she tell us?" Zhaan said to no one in particular.

Crichton caught Kune by a fistful of fabric at the base of his neck and
half-lifted him from the floor. "Is that what you did? Exchange
Aeryn's life for your own?"

The captain tried to shake his head. When he spoke, his voice was
hoarse, but held no fear. "You're a fool, human - if I'd wanted her
dead, all I had to do was leave her with you. There's a vid chip in my
pocket, if you insist on seeing her death."

Stark dropped to his knees beside Kune and began to randomly run his
hands over the captain. "Find the chip- where's the chip- find the
chip- ha ha!" He held up a silver video chip stamped with the
Peacekeeper crest. Jumping to his feet, he skittered over to a
maintenance station and inserted the chip.

A pale image flickered to life, a picture of a room filled with people
who looked much as Aeryn had before departing for the planet: amethyst
haired, violet purple skin striped with silver-white metal, clothing
made of woven ribbons. The males and females appeared to be in some
sort of meeting hall; they spoke with low voices in pairs or small
groups. Nothing seemed out of the ordinary at first, but then a long,
low keen split the air, and the calmness was broken. The image blurred
as people moved rapidly in the field of view, and was filled with
sporadic flashes of faces reflecting concern, anger, and confusion;
voices merged into a low hum to accompany the chaotic scene. After a
few microts some semblance of order returned. The image focused on a
short male with long amethyst hair looming over a figure forced to its
knees by two guards clad in purple armor. The figure was Aeryn.

"Not good, not good," Stark muttered anxiously.

"Shut up," D'Argo and Rygel said simultaneously.

"You - you have killed my First Wife," the short man said to Aeryn. He
struck her across the face, and Aeryn rocked backwards from the blow.
"I trusted you, allowed you an audience and a place at my table, and
this is how you repay my trust!" He kicked her in the stomach, and she
doubled over to the floor. The guards quickly pulled her back upright.

"It wasn't me," Aeryn gasped, glaring at the man towering over her.
"You're mistaken -"

"Liar!" the man howled in a deep voice. Again he struck her, again she
crumpled, again she was pulled upright by the guards. "My Heir saw you
kill her, saw her die from your brutal attack. Who sent you, traitor?
Who sent you to murder my First Wife?" He reached out with a hand
suddenly sporting five long white claws, drove the claws into Aeryn's
bare upper arm, and began to rip the metal strip from her skin.

"By the goddess," Zhaan murmured.

Aeryn fought, but the guards held her while the short man removed the
implant. Open muscle lay exposed where the metal strip had been, and
crimson blood flowed like water to soak the ribbon vest a dark maroon.
She did not scream, but one of the guards let out a low yip of surprise
when she ruthlessly sunk her teeth into his unprotected hand.

"You will tell me who sent you, or I'll remove every one of your calips
before your execution," the First Leader growled, dangling the bloody
metal strip before Aeryn's face.

The ex-Peacekeeper looked ready to lose consciousness. Her breathing
was labored, her eyes open to mere slits; her arm continued to gush
blood, making a large pool on the floor. Weakly she nodded and
whispered something too low to be heard.

"She gave you up," Crichton said to Kune. "That's why you ran."

Still in Crichton's hold, Kune answered gruffly, "You underestimate
Peacekeeper training, human."

In the image, the short man bent to grab a fistful of Aeryn's hair,
forcing her to look at him. "Again, traitor - and perhaps I will have
the mercy on you that you did not have for my Heir's mother."

Aeryn's eyes instantly snapped open, wide and alert. Before the First
Leader could react, she broke his hold on her, caught his chin in her
unharmed hand, and twisted sharply. The man's neck made an audible
snap, and the light faded from his purple eyes.

The scene again erupted into chaos, and the image flickered out.

"She looks alive to me," D'Argo said grimly.

Kune struck Crichton's hand from his throat and surged to his feet.
"You stupid frelling Luxan - they beat her to death, right there in
their Audience Chamber. When they were finished, you couldn't find two
matching pieces of her to put together. Were you were that, Luxan? Is
that slug over there worth that sacrifice, or the Delvian? Frell, no.
When I make my report to High Command, I will say that Officer Sun died
attempting to protect the Sebacean people, not trying to buy the freedom
of a few worthless slaves."

"I don't believe you," Crichton said dully. "I don't think she's dead."

"Then you're a fool," Kune sneered.

"I know very little of the Oltai, but everything I do know points to a
nearly fanatical devotion to loyalty and justice," Zhaan said, shaking
her head. "I sincerely doubt they would have killed Aeryn without an
interrogation to determine who had sent her."

"You-you must have thought that, too, or else you wouldn't have gone
with her," Chiana told the captain. "That's why you went, right? To
negotiate for her release when the new faction took power."

Kune sighed. "Yes, but-"

"No 'but's," Crichton said. "We are going back to that planet to see if
Aeryn is still alive, and you, Captain Crunch, are going to help us."

"She's dead, Crichton," Kune growled quietly, "and even if by some
miracle she weren't, they'd still never hand her over to you."

Crichton smiled without humor. "They would if we had something more
valuable to trade - say, a Special Ops captain who ordered the murder of
their leader."

Kune gave the human a measuring glance. "You wouldn't dare. If the
Oltai discovered the Peacekeepers were behind the assassination, they
would certainly sign a treaty with the Scarrens. Officer Sun's death
would have been in vain, and all of this would have been for nothing."

"Then you had better come up with a different plan," Stark told the
captain.

*

"I am Dominar Rygel XVI of the Hynerian Empire," Rygel droned to the
image on Command's forward viewport. "I have come on a matter of great
urgency. I must speak with you Justice Leader."

The purple skinned Oltai male shook his head gravely. "Recent events
have detained the Justice Leader, Dominar," he said in a low voice. "I
must ask that you turn your Leviathan around and immediately depart
Oltai space."

"Unacceptable!" Chiana shrieked, stomping her foot angrily against
Moya's deck. "I have not come all this way in search of the traitor
only to be dismissed! Do you have any idea who I am? I'll tell you who
I am - I'm Electorate Chiana of Nebari Prime, and I absolutely demand to
talk to somebody in authority!"

"You are," assured the amethyst haired man, then added, "Nebari . .we
are not familiar with your race."

"A fierce-tempered species, honorable leader," Zhaan said soothingly,
"although they are just as fierce in their devotion to justice - as are
my people. I am Pa'u Zotah Zhaan, representative of the Delvian
League. Dominar Rygel has not overstated our mission, honorable leader
- we must speak with your Justice Leader."

"And I have not deceived you," the Oltai answered. "The Justice Leader
is unavailable. . but since your mission is so urgent. . ." The image
dimmed and muted as the male turned to address someone off-scene.

"This is never going to work," Kune grumbled.

"It will work, it must work, it will work," Stark chanted in return.

"Oh, shut up," Rygel snapped.

"Stop, children," Zhaan admonished. "We must all work together on this,
for Aeryn's sake."

Another man appeared on the viewscreen, a male with eyes such a dark
shade of purple that they almost looked black. "I am War Leader
Papher. My people are in the midst of a crisis; we are in no mood to
host a delegation of foreign dignitaries."

"And we are in no mood to play the role of guests," Crichton said
slowly. He wore the Peacekeeper captain's uniform that he had once
donned to fool a marauder team, and spoke with the cool drawl Aeryn had
taught him to mimic a Peacekeeper. "We are searching for an escaped
prisoner, an assassin who has committed murders in each of our
territories. We have reason to believe she is on your central planet."

"Peacekeeper," the Oltai growled. "What makes you think your assassin
is here?"

"Your First Leader has been murdered, yes?" Kune put in smoothly. "We
don't want her, I assure you. . we simply desire to see her remains."

The war Leader frowned at the group silently for a few microts. "You
will be permitted two arns to orbit our central planet, visit the
surface, and leave. You will come unarmed. You will submit to searches
when you arrive. And you will be destroyed by our military if you
remain one microt beyond two arns. These are the terms - no
negotiations."

"We accept," Rygel said, half bowing from his thronesled.

"Thank you, honorable leader," Zhaan added.

The male casually flickered a hand and cut the connection.

"Two arns," Crichton repeated. He glanced at Kune. "I hope you know
your way around down there."

*

A small squad of Oltai soldiers escorted them into the War Leader's
audience hall. Like the guards who had restrained Aeryn, these Oltai
wore purple armor that carefully covered all but a few strips of their
external nerves, and their heads were shaved to the skin; it was nearly
impossible to distinguish males from females. Despite their armor, the
soldiers moved almost noiselessly through the dimly-lit corridors
leading from the landing pad to the audience hall.

"Frell this darkness - don't they have lights here?" Rygel snapped after
nearly running his thronesled into a wall for the third time.

"Be quiet - they can hear you," Zhaan warned, pinching his earbrow to
accentuate her words.

The dark-eyes War Leader stood behind a round control center awaiting
their arrival. His amethyst hair was skinned tightly back across his
skull and bound un a thick braid; he wore the armor of a soldier, not
the ribbons of a politician. "I assume you know by now that both the
First Leader and First Wife are dead at your assassin's hands,
Peacekeeper," the male said to Crichton. "How very pleased your High
Command must be."

"High Command does not interfere with internal matters of state," Kune
said for Crichton. "We regret your loss."

War Leader Papher smiled thinly, exposing sharp teeth. "You need not
pacify me with platitudes, peacekeeper. I know High Command must have
been furious that we were about to sign a treaty with the Scarrens, and
while I do not believe they had a hand in these events, I do believe
they rejoice over them." He shook his head. "A pity that their joy is
premature. The Heir of the First Leader intends to sign the pact, just
as the First Leader would have done. I will ensure that this comes to
pass - I am the Heir's Regent Protector now."

"Your affairs are your own," Rygel said shortly. "We just want to know
about the assassin so we can go home. Each of our respective
governments will be pleased to learn of her death."

"We have not yet finished questioning her," the War Leader said. He
tapped something on his console, making a small image appear above the
desk. In the dim light Crichton could only make out a bruised and
bleeding figure slumped in a large chair to which she was bound. A
figure loomed over her, an Oltai soldier with a long silver knife in his
hand; he touched the knife to the metal strip on the woman's neck, and
she jerked violently.

The woman was not Aeryn. She looked remarkably similar, but there was a
roundness to her face and a slant to her eyes that Aeryn did not
possess, even disguised as an Oltai.

"That's the assassin," D'Argo said slowly.

The War Leader took his words as a statement, not a question. "Yes.
There were a hundred witnesses."

"Barbaric torture," Zhaan commented, watching the image. "Delvians do
not treat even assassins in this manner."

"Justice demands that we know who hired her," the war Leader said,
killing the image. "You have the evidence you need that she has been
apprehended. Do not ask for her: she has already been sentenced to
death, execution to follow interrogation. You may return to your
ship." He turned away from them.

They exchanged glances among themselves, then turned to follow the Oltai
soldier who waited behind them.

"We are not barbarians," Papher said. "Like you, Peacekeepers, we are
practical; like you, Luxan, we know honor."

D'Argo turned back to him and replied, "There is no honor in torture,
War Leader."

The male waived for them to return. "Let me show you something." He
again tapped on his console. Another image appeared, a view of a lush
garden illuminated with pale light. Two Oltai women stood among the
knee-high pastel flowers; one carried a young child on her hip, and the
other one was Aeryn.

"This is from ten cycles ago," the War Leader said. "When the assassin
first came to us, she said she was seeking haven from the Peacekeepers;
although she had been among them for many cycles, they had decided she
no longer served a purpose. Halfbreeds have never concerned us - we are
just arrogant enough to believe that a little of our blood improves
everyone."

A man entered the garden, approached the two women with a smile on his
face. The women stretched their hands out to him, and he held them to
his chest.

"She found favor with the First Leader, who was only the Foreign
Ministry Leader then. These are his wife and child."

The male in the image took the child from his wife and playfully tweaked
her nose. The child laughed and said something that made the two women
laugh.

Aeryn had white flowers braided into her hair.

"When the last First Leader died, it was rumored that he was murdered,"
the War Leader said. "Many assumed that this assassin had done it. She
disappeared shortly thereafter, and we never thought to see her again.
Then, a few solar days ago, she returned. The First Leader was
delighted. He welcomed her into his hall, his home, and even his bed,
some say - although I doubt it. The First Wife treated her like a
sister."

In the image, the child reached for Aeryn, and Aeryn swung the girl up
onto her shoulders. The girl clapped her hands with joy, making the
pale light glint off the metal strips on her arms.

"Your people value honor, Luxan," the War Leader said grimly. "Mine
value justice. It is our deity and our life, the thing we serve and
strive towards. Justice demands that we not only punish the assassin,
but know why she betrayed us." He killed the image above the console,
slanting Crichton a neutral look. "You Peacekeepers have no notion of
justice. We use the same word but with different meanings. For you,
justice is winning, but for us, it is doing what is right. You say it
is unjust for us to ally with the Scarrens, but we find justice is best
served by saving the innocent. Do you think we cannot see the coming
war between the Peacekeepers and Scarrens?" He shook his head. "We are
not barbarians. Go, use the remainder of your time to talk with my
people. Speak to anyone you wish, anyone at all - justice is not served
through a silent tongue. Take what you learn back to your homeworlds -
and your High Command, Peacekeeper."

"I will make a full report," Kune said stiffly, and turned away.

*

The Oltai soldiers had melted into the shadows, leaving the corridor
empty. Zhaan cornered Kune the moment she was certain they were alone.

"You," she snarled at the captain. "You filthy Peacekeeper - you
corrupt everything you touch. These people, Aeryn. . .Stark was right:
you made her sell her soul for this deal."

"You can't sell what you don't have, Delvian," Kune replied, shoving her
away. "Officer Sun saw the larger picture, and she made her own
choice. A choice that benefits you, if you recall."

"And what choice do you think Aeryn will make when she learns you
abandoned her, captain?" D'Argo asked. "That isn't her they have
strapped to an interrogation chair.'

For a moment Kune looked shaken. "I know. I'm not certain how -"

"I know how," Crichton interrupted. "You thought the game was up, so
you tucked tail and ran like a whooped dog. Now you're gonna fix
things. We're going to split up and look for Aeryn, and when we find
her, we're gonna get the hell outa here. So you have between now and
then to think of a way to get us all clear."

"Good plan," Rygel said sarcastically. "Let's trust our lives to the
Peacekeeper coward. Good idea."

"Not now, Buckwheat," Crichton said. "Captain Crunch is about to tell
us where to find Aeryn."

*

Kune with D'Argo, Rygel with Zhaan. . .Crichton almost wished Chiana or
Stark had come down to the planet, but someone had to stay on Moya with
Pilot. He could have gone with the others, but time was limited, so he
went alone. The dimly lit corridors were mostly empty; glancing through
open doors brought him images of large halls filled with ribbon-clad
Oltai politicals, or rooms of purple-armored soldiers. There was a
quietness to the place that made him uneasy. The soft sound of his
boots on the floor seemed abnormally loud.

Walking down an empty corridor, he glanced through another open door;
before his eyes registered the sight, a hand clapped over his mouth and
he was yanked backwards, into another room. The door slid shut, locking
him away from the corridor, and he was released.

He spun to face his captor. "Aeryn -"

"What the frell are you doing here?" Aeryn demanded. She lifted a hand
to throw back the hood of her purple robe. "Waiting on Moya is one
thing, but you -"

"Wait," he said, holding up his hands. "There's no time to explain. We
have to get out of here-"
"You have to get out of here," she corrected. "The Heir is going to be
here any microt. I'm almost finished. She turned so that the pale
light from a window overhead fell on her face. Her left eye was swollen
shut, her right cheek sported a dark bruise, and her lower lip was split
in two places.

"God, Aeryn, look at you," he said, reaching out to touch her face. "We
thought you were dead. Kune came back and said you were dead."

Aeryn flinched away from his hand before he touched her. "I saw Kune
not a solar day ago. We had a plan -"

"-Which he blew," Crichton interrupted. "He left you, Aeryn. He came
back in your prowler with a vid chip showing your so-called death after
killing the Oltai leader."

"No," she denied, shaking her head. "We had a plan. I tried to tell
him that I felt reasonably certain I could convince the First Leader to
abandon a treaty with the Scarrens, but he. . ." She shook her head
again. "We argued, but eventually came to terms. He wouldn't have left
me."

"He did," Crichton assured her. "And about those terms - you should
have told us. Not fair, Aeryn."

"Nothing's fair, Crichton - haven't you learned that yet?" She
snorted. "I'm going to gut that slug. I told him not to say anything."

"Why the secrecy? Unless you were so ashamed of what you were about to
do that you didn't want us to know."

"Ashamed of what? This was a good deal, Crichton, until you came along
and frelled it up. You're good at frelling things up. Now get out - go
back to Moya and wait for me." She pulled the hood of her robe back up.

"No way. You're coming back with me, and we're leaving right now." He
caught her arm and yanked her towards the door.

Her fist caught him squarely in the stomach, doubling him over and
leaving him gasping for breath.

"Frell you, I just got the bleeding to stop," she ground out. Flinging
back the robe, she examined the exposed muscular strip down the length
of her arm; it was rapidly bleeding from the place his hand had seized.
"Now look what you've done."

"It happened - you did murder the First Leader after he yanked that
metal out of your arm," Crichton said, slowly straightening. "Is the
rest true, too? Were you a friend of the family - is that why they
trusted you?"

"You were right there on Command with the others when I explained what I
was going to do," Aeryn returned to his sharp questions. She tried to
wrap the reopened wound with a torn strip from the hem of the robe. "I
made a deal to get the others free, Crichton. Do you believe you're the
only one who can make sacrifices? Why aren't you pleased that I finally
bought into one of your sub-educated morales about helping others?"

"Because you lied," he returned, cautiously approaching her. "Because
you didn't tell us, and now you've convicted us all of assassination.
You committed the act, but we provided the motive."

"Can you say 'frelled'?" she snapped. "Kune shows up out of nowhere
with a deal. If I turn him down, I'm frelled - he instantly betrays us
to High Command. If I take the offer, I'm frelled - I betray people who
trust me. If I succeed, I'm frelled; if I fail, I'm frelled. Are you
seeing the pattern? I couldn't win this one, so I choose the best
defeat available."

"They trusted you, Aeryn," Crichton said, wrapping the cloth around her
arm. "We all did. And the worst part is, I believe you when you say
you did your best. Kune brought out the Peacekeeper in you, the part
that never asks for help."

His eyes locked with hers, and she said nothing.

Abruptly the door slid open, admitting a small host of people: two
soldiers, a young Oltai girl, the War Leader, D'Argo and Kune. Aeryn
moved before anyone else, rushing forward to smash the heel of her hand
against one of the soldier's exposed nerves on its neck; the soldier
dropped without a sound. D'Argo went against the other soldier, but the
War Leader leveled a precise kick to the Luxan's unguarded back, making
him stumble and lose his balance. The Peacekeeper captain attacked the
War Leader, and Crichton launched himself into the fray to help.

The first low wail that split the air made everyone freeze.

Aeryn had taken one of the soldier's weapons and held it trained
steadily on the young girl, who stood wailing and hoarsely yelling at
her.

"You killed my parents," the girl said, her purple skin splotted with
white patches. "Oathbreaker! You promised long ago to protect us!
Justice will see your head on my wall!"

"Do it quickly, Officer Sun," Kune urged. "They've already sent for
reinforcements."

"This is the Heir?" D'Argo asked in surprise. He wrestled to hold the
Oltai soldier in his grasp. "This child is the Heir?"

"You saw the vid chip," the War Leader answered, warily eyeing the pulse
pistol in Kune's hand. "This is the First Leader's only child, his
daughter and Heir."

Crichton remembered the child in the clip, the smiling girl that Aeryn
had lifted onto her shoulders. "Aeryn, don't do this," he said.
"You'll never be able to live with yourself if you do it."

"Is that your real name, oathbreaker?" the girl hissed. "No doubt you
have a thousand names, and you have lied under them all. You swore an
oath to my family!"

Aeryn said nothing, and no emotion showed on her face.

"You swore a blood oath to the Peacekeepers, officer Sun," Kune said
grimly. "This is a direct order: eliminate the threat to Sebacean
freedom."

"That threat is a child," D'Argo protested. "Aeryn, don't be stupid.
You're not a Peacekeeper anymore."

"Oathbreaker!" the girl wailed. "Assassin! Murderer!"

"Child, Aeryn. Not a threat," Crichton pleaded. "Put the gun down."

"I'll hunt you to the end of Justice's realm," the girl promised. "I'll
send my soldiers to hunt you forever, and all you value will be
destroyed!"

"Officer Sun - Aeryn," Kune said quickly. "Crichton - he's yours. His
life is yours, if you fulfill your mission."

"No!" Crichton denied. "Aeryn, it's not worth it -"

D'Argo added, "He's lying, the frelling Peacekeeper -"

"Justice will be on your head, assassin," the War Leader promised.

"You swore an oath to save us," the girl said again.

"Frell," Aeryn said softly. For a microt she closed her eyes, weighing
her choices, listening to the voices in her ears and the ones in her
heart. Then she opened her eyes and chose a form of defeat.

*

Chiana had Pilot break orbit and starburst as soon as the transport pod
was aboard, just as Zhaan asked her to do. But she was in the docking
bay the moment the transport hatch opened; she watched Rygel zip out on
his thronesled first, followed by Zhaan. The Delvian went to Stark and
embraced him; the Bannick held her tightly, and let her lean on him when
they silently turned to walk away. D'Argo came next, and Chiana knew by
the dark expression on his face that something was not right.

"What-what happened?" she asked. "Is Aeryn -?"

D'Argo shook his head. "She's alive." Briefly he laid a hand on her
cheek, then turned and walked away, his shoulders unusually slumped, his
stride unusually slow.

"What's wrong with them?" she asked the Hynerian hovering next to her.

Crichton emerged next, carrying Aeryn's small bag. "Hey, Pip." he
greeted her, smiling wanly. "Did you get Pilot to move Moya?"

"Yeah, yeah, it's done," Chiana answered. "Crichton, what -?"

"Not now," he said, shaking his head.

"Nothing happened, Chiana," Rygel said, watching Crichton walk away.
"Aeryn did what she agreed to do, and now we're all free from the
Peacekeepers."

"Well, why doesn't everyone look happier, then?" the Nebari asked. "We
should be celebrating."

"You certainly should," Kune said, stepping down from the transport.
"And you should all be pleased with Officer Sun - she has shown herself
to be a person of courage and honor, never flinching from her duty."

Aeryn came last. She moved slowly, taking each step as if uncertain of
finding solid ground. The purple robe she wore was half soaked with
blood, and her face was a broken mess. She stared straight ahead
without expression, and when her gaze flickered across Chiana, the
Nebari felt as if she had been reviewed and dismissed in a microt.

Chiana took a half step back. Never before had Aeryn looked at her as a
lesser species; never before had she looked at Aeryn as a Peacekeeper.
Even when watching the vid chip of the old Pilot's execution, she had
seen the difference between the Aeryn in the firing squad and the Aeryn
who lived on Moya. Now she could not tell the difference, and it made
her a little afraid.

"Aeryn?" she said, calling for the woman she'd almost come to love.

Aeryn swayed in place, closing her eyes.

Kune tried to steady her. "Easy, Officer Sun -"

The heel of her hand caught him under the jaw and snapped his head back,
sending him spinning away from her. "Don't touch me," she said in a low
voice, almost a growl.

The captain rubbed the back of his neck and eyes her warily. "You'll
need me to remove the implants. Don't disgrace yourself now with
emotion, Officer Sun." He stepped towards her, and Aeryn stepped back,
raising her hands in a defensive stance.

"Kune, for the love of god, leave her alone," Crichton said, returning
to the bay. Without hesitation he went to Aeryn, put an arm about her
waist, and turned her away. Aeryn went willingly, even leaning on him
for a few steps.

"Weakness, Aeryn Sun," Kune said to her retreating form. "Pain makes
you strong."

For a microt Aeryn stopped. "There are other ways to be strong,
Rorhen," she said quietly.

Crichton glared at Kune, then lead Aeryn away.

"How did you get away?" Chiana asked the frowning captain. "The Oltai
must have been pretty angry. . ."

The Peacekeeper shrugged. "The leader of the faction to assume power
was also the person responsible for protecting the Heir of the First
Leader," Kune said. He smiled humorlessly. "Betrayal is a universal
phenomenon, Nebari Never forget that."

*

"And how will we know when passage to our homeworlds has been arranged?"
Rygel asked the Peacekeeper captain.

Kune turned his gaze from the forward portal and glanced around Command
before answering. "I will leave a message for Officer Sun in an
undisclosed location. She will inform you when you are safe to go."

D'Argo growled, "Not a very precise plan, Peacekeeper."

The captain laughed. "Don't worry, Luxan. Officer Sun's kept her end
of the bargain, and I'll keep mine."

"You'll pardon our doubts, I'm sure," Zhaan said cooly.

Kune began to reply, stopped when he saw Aeryn and Crichton entering
Command. He scowled at the human for a microt, but when his gaze turned
to Aeryn the frown eased, was replaced by something akin to concern.

"It's not too late, Officer Sun," Kune told her. "High Command doesn't
want you dead - they want to rehabilitate you, bring you back into the
fraternity of soldiers to which you belong."

Aeryn lifted her chin. The metal strips were gone from her skin, and
the bruises were quickly receding, but her eyes were still a deep
purple. "The fraternity threw me out, Kune, and you abandoned me."

"That's standard operating procedure," the captain replied. "Know when
to cut your losses."

"I'm not talking about just this time," Aeryn said. "Almost two cycles,
Rorhen, and you never came, not until you wanted me to help you. Do you
know, at first I thought you would come. Now I'm glad that you didn't."

Kune walked towards her, ignoring Crichton's warning glare. "They are
never going to accept you here, Aeryn. If they knew half the things
you've done, if they even had a small look at your service record -"

"They'll never read my service record," Aeryn said sharply, "and I'm
going to forget it, myself, as quickly as possible."

"What a waste," Kune said softly. He laid a hand on her shoulder. "All
for a group of escaped prisoners, and a half-mad human without a home."

"A hundred times better than I ever had before," she replied quietly.

Kune shook his head. He pulled something from his jacket pocket,
pressed it into her hand before anyone could see what it was. "Take
it," he told her sternly. "It might help you when you need it, but no
promises." He stepped back from her, snapped smartly to attention.
"Good fortune to you, Officer Sun. Commendations on a job well done."

Crichton watched the captain walk towards the exit.

"Rorhen," Aeryn said sharply, turning to face his retreating form. "I
did everything you ordered, everything you asked. Don't do this."

"Don't do what?" D'Argo asked suspiciously.

At the threshold Kune turned back to face her. "The First Leader's heir
was right, Aeryn - you are an oathbreaker. A traitor, a deserter, and
an oathbreaker; your contamination is complete. And you are the only
woman who ever made me wish I had a heart." He shook his head. "I'm
sorry things had to be this way between us."

"Rorhen," Aeryn said as he began to turn away. "You are as much an
oathbreaker as I am."

"What's going on?" Chiana said, glancing nervously between the two
Sebaceans. "Is he trying to frell us?"

"You know me too well, Officer Sun." Kune smiled, then turned and
walked away.

"What was that about?" Crichton quietly asked her.

Aeryn half turned away from him. "You have to understand, John - he is
what he was born to be, just as I am. It's not an excuse, but
Peacekeepers start their training early. He participated in his first
interrogation at eight cycles, made his first kill at nine. He could
never be anything other than what he is."

"I thought you believed people could change," Crichton said, watching
her closely. She turned her head, and the small movement reminded him
of the vid chip the War Leader had shown him of an Aeryn ten cycles
past, a disguised Peacekeeper with flowers in her hair and a child on
her shoulders. Now that child was dead, and the woman in the image who
held her was, too, at least to the Oltai. The Peacekeeper who had been
the Oltai halfbreed - had she harbored any feelings at all for the First
Leader, his wife and child? Crichton didn't know, and he doubted Aeryn
would ever tell him. Perhaps even she didn't know.

"Officer Sun, Captain Kune has departed in your prowler," Pilot
announced. His image appeared on the clamshell. "I do apologize - both
Moya and I assumed he was only inspecting it."

"That's right, Kune, take everything you can," Aeryn muttered. In a
louder voice she said, "That's all right, Pilot. I suspected he might
do as much. Please let me know when he is forty metras from Moya."

"You still consider yourself a Peacekeeper, don't you," D'Argo said,
looking at Aeryn. "Is that how you're rationalizing the murder of that
girl - just following orders?"

"It got us our freedom, didn't it?" Rygel snapped. "Who cares about one
female, anyway."

"Captain Kune is at thirty-eight metras, Officer Sun," Pilot reported.

"Thank you, Pilot," Aeryn said calmly. She took a small device from a
pack attached to her belt and entered a series of codes.

Through the forward portal, Crichton and the others watched a distant
star flare and die.

"What was that?" Chiana demanded. "Did you do that?"

"Officer Sun's prowler is gone," Pilot confirmed. "Scans show that the
propulsion system ignited, destroying it almost instantaneously."

"He was planning to betray us," Aeryn said simply.

Rygel zoomed his thronesled over to her. "You stupid Peacekeeper
bitch! You just destroyed our one chance at freedom."

"Aeryn, what have you done?" Zhaan cried. "He had done us no harm."

Stark began a low chant.

"Don't waste your time," Aeryn told the Bannick. "Peacekeepers believe
that when you die, you simply cease to exist."

"You go nowhere, you see nothing," Crichton said slowly, remembering the
words she'd once said.

Aeryn nodded. She turned away from them all, setting what Kune had
given her on the main console as she passed by.

Zhaan asked tightly, "And what becomes of former Peacekeepers when they
die?"

Aeryn stared at Moya's golden walls. "I'm actually looking forward to
oblivion." She walked away without another word, unsteady on her feet
but sure on her path.

"Let me send you there, then," Rygel growled, going after her. Crichton
caught him by the back of his robe, holding him in place.

"Not now, Sparky," the human said sternly.

"She just destroyed our one chance to get free!" the Hynerian said, his
voice nearly a wail.

D'Argo walked over to the console while Rygel threw his tantrum, picked
up the object Aeryn had discarded. "I know what this is," he said,
scrutinizing the thing carefully. "It's a passcode, a symbol to other
peacekeepers. Macton made Lo'Laan keep one. The words on this - I can't
read most of them, but I recognize 'immunity' and 'special orders'."

"Ka D'Argo, that device is emitting a very strong signal," Pilot said
urgently. "Scans show that it is broadcasting its location for
thousands of metras!"

D'Argo hissed, dropped the object, and ground it beneath his heel.
"Prepare for starburst!"

"A homing device," Zhaan said. "Aeryn knew."

"Starburst in eight microts," Pilot announced.

"If she'd known, she never would have let the captain leave," Rygel
denied. "She didn't know."

"I think she did," Stark said loyally, then returned to his chant.

"You can stop praying for that frelling Peacekeeper," Chiana told him
sourly. "Even if he had a soul, he isn't worth the effort."

Stark paused long enough to say, "I'm not praying for the Peacekeeper.
I'm praying for Aeryn." He returned to his chanting once more.

And Crichton thought of the girl who had made a deal to keep her place
as a prowler pilot, and the one who had made a deal to keep her friends
free. "Amen," he said softly.

*

Contact KNS

<< Return to the fiction page




Oathbreaker
by KNS

Disclaimer: Two words: not mine. All characters and the universe in
which they exist belong to the Jim Henson Company, the Sci-Fi Channel, and anyone else who isn't me. The only thing to which I lay claim is the plot line.

Rating: Probably PG-13 for language, violence, and adult themes.

Author's Note: Episode one in the Unscripted Territories Series. Takes
place in Season 2, between the episodes "The Locket" and "The Ugly Truth", and includes spoilers up to that point. You have been warned. Apologies for all the words I know I misspelled. Peace be with you, live long and prosper, yada yada yada.
 
Farscape is copyright ©1999 The Jim Henson Company. All rights reserved | Privacy Policy | Legal Stuff