a moment of disorientation, and then the Leviathan emerged from
starburst. Aeryn Sun shook her head to clear the lingering dizziness,
as Moya's engines hummed back to life.
sought out the others. They looked stunned, disbelieving, as was
she herself. It did not seem real, somehow. One moment she had
been sleeping in her quarters, and then next awakened by Pilot's
urgent alarm. Almost before she knew what was happening, it was
over. John was gone, having surrendered himself to his greatest
a quarter arn from the first alarm, till the moment when Pilot
had initiated the starburst.
clenched by her side. Pilot had done what he had to do, and yet
at the moment she hated him for it, nearly as much as she hated
herself for being so helpless.
followed?" Rygel asked.
Moya's sensors indicate no trace of any other ships in this area,"
growled. "That is no guarantee of safety. Moya didn't spot these
Peacekeepers until they had already surrounded us."
"I do not
understand why Moya was unable to detect the Peacekeeper ships,"
Pilot fretted. "Her sensors were off-line earlier, but Commander
Crichton had finished his recalibrations several ahns ago."
Rygel said. "The human doesn't fix things, instead he takes apart
things that are working fine and breaks them."
It was true
that when Crichton first arrived on Moya, he had been as likely
to break things as he was to fix them. But those days were long
past, and it was not like him to be careless. Not when he knew
their lives were at stake.
And if it
was not carelessness, what could it be?
must have found a new way to hide his ships," Aeryn said, though
she had never heard of such a technology. Still she was a warrior,
not a tech.
were you when this started?" Aeryn said, turning to pin Rygel
with her stare. "You had the watch tonight. So why were you the
last to arrive in command?"
his robe tightly around him, and his throne-sled rose in the air,
retreating from her. "I was in my quarters, sleeping if you must
know. Crichton offered to take the watch. Said he wanted to work
on his module. I saw no reason why both of us should lose sleep."
to think of himself first. She had seen John only in passing yesterday,
but even then he had looked exhausted. Any idiot could have seen
that he was in no condition to take on the responsibilities of
the night watch.
But if Crichton
had already been in the module bay, it explained why he had been
able to leave so quickly, before she could reach him. And yet
what was he doing working on his module at that hour? There were
no urgent repairs that needed doing. Surely whatever needed doing
could have waited until tomorrow.
was another reason he was there.
there anything else unusual that happened? Any sign that the command
carrier was near?" Aeryn asked.
up a low frequency communications signal. I asked Commander Crichton
about it, and he said it was something called radio, and that
there was no need for concern." There was a long pause. "Then
a few moments later, the Peacekeeper ships appeared."
knew they were coming," D'Argo said. "He said so himself, when
he told Pilot to look for the command carrier."
insisted automatically. And yet a part of her had already begun
to doubt. There were too many coincidences.
he did," Rygel said. "No doubt you'll find he reset the scanners
as well, so we would have no warning."
closer to D'Argo, placing one hand on his shoulder. "But why would
he do that? He hates this Scorpius. You know that."
hated Scorpius, but even more he feared him. Whatever Scorpius
had done to John, it had scarred his soul permanently. John would
give his life for his friends, yes. But he would not conspire
with his enemy. Nor was it like him to give up so easily, without
a fight. And yet he had done exactly that. Handed himself over
to Scorpius, without giving any of them the chance to reason with
him or to come up with a better plan.
silently watched the interplay, but now she spoke. "Aeryn, what
did John mean when he said his hallucinations were getting stronger?"
hand Aeryn pushed away the hair that had fallen into her face.
"After the Royal Planet, John told me he was having visions. Seeing
Scorpius, even talking with him. He told me not to worry, that
if the visions continued he would go to you for help. I thought
it might be transit sickness."
her head gravely. "I knew there was something troubling him, but
he never spoke to me, nor did he mention these visions."
she had been a fool. It was John's nature to talk about what troubled
him, and to try and solve the troubles of those around him. It
was one of his most endearing and annoying qualities, depending
on whether he was sharing his own feelings, or trying to probe
hers. She had counted on John behaving as he always had, and assumed
that he had gone to Zhaan for the help that she could not give
him. When the weeks had gone by with no further mention of the
visions, she had thought him cured.
She had not
realized that John might have changed, so much that he would not,
or could not ask for help. For he had said nothing to Zhaan, and
apparently the visions had grown worse instead of going away.
There had been desperation in his voice in his last message, a
tone that reminded her of the tortured creature she had rescued
from the Gammak base.
had he carried this burden? And why hadn't he trusted her enough
to share it with her? What had happened, that had made him believe
his only choice was to surrender to his worst enemy?
and I will check the sensors," Aeryn said. She already knew what
she would find.
her hand off D'Argo and glared at him angrily. "You can't believe
this. Crichton would never betray us."
and began to walk away.
made her stop in her tracks. "Crichton didn't betray us. He betrayed
waited patiently for Crichton to awaken, his mind turning over
the knowledge he had gained when he accessed the memories stored
on the neuro-chip. Not that there had been time to digest all
of the information, indeed it would take many weeks, for the neuro-chip
had had months to access Crichton's conscious thoughts and sensory
were advantages in having designed the neuro-chip as an analog
of his own personality. The chip had prioritized the information
presented in precisely the same order that Scorpius would have
chosen, had he done the job himself. There would be time later
to go through all of Crichton's memories, but for now he knew
what he needed to know, to understand Crichton's mental state,
and to make his plans accordingly.
Just as Crichton's
physical composition was similar to a Sebacean's but not quite
identical, so too, his neural patterns were subtly different.
His mind had proven surprisingly resilient, in the face of stresses
that would have overwhelmed a lesser creature.
in fact. For each time the chip had been forced to override Crichton's
conscious mind, it had left behind a thread of neural pathway.
The pathway should have been erased, but instead traces had remained.
Crichton's subconscious mind had seized upon these traces, forging
its own links to the functions of the neuro-chip.
few weeks of the implant, the links were strong enough that under
stress Crichton's mind became aware of the chip. Unable to comprehend
its function, his mind had translated the chip's input into aural
and visual inputs, which Crichton perceived as hallucinations
in which he heard and saw Scorpius.
had performed as designed, preserving Crichton's life and sanity
through its actions. But each time the chip acted, the links grew
stronger, and as what he perceived as hallucinations became more
common, Crichton grew more afraid for his sanity.
Crichton had fallen into the hands of a Scarran interrogator,
who had twisted his mind to the breaking point. With the neuro-chip's
help Crichton had escaped, but the mental wounds he had received
could not be undone. The wounds remained, festering, the chip's
need to hide its existence ensuring that Crichton would not seek
the help he so desperately needed.
mental condition continued to deteriorate, the neuro-chip had
recognized the threat, and had sent the signal for recall.
stirred, and his thought patterns began to brighten. He made an
inarticulate noise, and then raised one hand to his face.
Scorpius said, letting him know that he was not alone.
eyes flew open, and he half-rolled, half-fell off the sleeping
platform, landing on the floor and then rising awkwardly to his
feet. As his eyes locked on the chair where Scorpius sat, he turned
slowly to face him.
fear in his posture, and in the expression on his face.
Crichton was stronger than he had been the day before. The full
day of drugged induced sleep had alleviated the worst of his exhaustion,
and time would do the rest.
he was balanced on a knife-edge. It would be a simple matter to
break him, to push him over the edge of madness. It would be far
harder to heal his mind. Especially when Crichton was unlikely
had deactivated the neuro-chip, which should break the destructive
cycle of apparent hallucinations. Time would tell whether the
resulting damage could be reversed.
we will talk," Scorpius said.
Crichton would retreat to the sleeping platform, or perhaps the
wall, to put the maximum distance between them. But again Crichton
"Is it live
or is it Memorex?" Crichton asked, as if to himself. He advanced
across the room, coming to stand before Scorpius. Then he reached
out with his right hand a hand that trembled only slightly as
he touched Scorpius on the shoulder.
As his fingers
brushed Scorpius's thermal suit, Crichton nodded, then dropped
It took a
moment for the meaning of the gesture to sink in. Crichton was
testing his reality, using tactile sensation to confirm that this
was indeed Scorpius, and not simply another hallucination.
was Scorpius. In the flesh, so to speak. John backed up slowly
across the room, until he reached the bed, and then sat down heavily.
said nothing, but there was a strange expression on his face.
For a moment it looked like pity, but he had to be mistaken. The
Scorpius he knew was a ruthless interrogator. John did not want
to know what it would take to inspire his pity.
you want?" he asked.
thing you do," Scorpius replied. "Knowledge. The secret to unlocking
the creation of wormholes, for a start."
give you what I don't know," he said, spreading his hands wide.
It was no use trying to pretend to a courage he did not own. Any
information he had was Scorpius's for the taking. It was simply
a question of whether John gave the information willingly, or
surrendered it under torture.
For all he
knew, the Aurora Chair was the least of Scorpius's toys. Who knew
what refinements Scorpius might have invented in the months since
John's escape? He could feel his heart begin to race, and he tried
very hard not to think about what else Scorpius could do to him.
"You do not
have the information. Yet. But I believe that given time you will
discover the answers we seek," Scorpius answered.
is it? You torture me until I agree to work for you?"
said you had nothing to fear. You will not be harmed. But you
will remain here, as my guest. In time you will see the wisdom
of cooperation. I can afford to be patient."
He had expected
anything but this. It had to be a trick. "Sorry, Scorpy, the game
doesn't work that way. Once you've been bad cop, you can't expect
me to believe that you're the good cop now. Next you'll tell me
you only want to help me."
you enjoy being obscure? Or are you simply testing the limitations
of the translator microbes?"
There was a distant planet where millions of people shared his
culture and spoke his language without the help of alien bugs
in their brains. He knew his Earth references sometimes confused
his friends, and even his enemies, but he could not give them
up. Indeed he clung all the more firmly to them, as a way of reminding
himself that there was indeed a place where he was not alone,
a stranger among aliens who could never quite understand who or
what he was.
"I know you
do not believe me, but you need my help," Scorpius said. "In fact
I am the only one who can help you."
For a moment
the living Scorpius sounded exactly like the creature he had seen
in his visions these past months. It was an eerie feeling, like
deja vu. He reminded himself that this was just the newest of
Scorpius's mind games. Soon he would tire of this pose, and then
the real Scorpius would emerge.
there is nothing you need to do, except to rest and regain your
strength. These quarters are yours. When you are hungry, use the
ship's interface and food will be brought. If you are bored, the
technical station contains research data that will be of interest.
One warning though, the device around your neck is keyed to this
room. Should you try to leave, it will administer a sedative and
you will be unconscious within microts."
his hand, and discovered that there was a plastic collar encircling
his neck, a thin band about two fingers wide. It made him angry,
as he wondered what else had been done to him while he lay unconscious.
has a new pet, is that it?"
precaution, nothing more. If you recall, last time you were on
one of my ships you managed to destroy it with remarkable efficiency.
And then, of course, there was the Gammak base. I find this command
carrier useful, and would prefer that both you and it remained
smiled, as if he found humor in the situation.
at the collar, but it would not budge. It was not tight enough
to hurt, and yet he could not insert even a fingernail between
the warm plastic and his own skin.
is your answer, a dog collar?"
prefer that I chain you to the wall? Or station a guard in here,
to keep an eye on you at all times?"
were being twisted. Everything Scorpius said sounded reasonable,
until you realized that it was just a trap. Scorpius's true goals
were unchanged. This was just a new mask. John felt his frustration
rising. There had to be something he could do, some way to argue
with this creature. But his thoughts just chased themselves in
his fist, digging his fingernails into the palm of his hand, grateful
for the distraction of the pain. He had come prepared to endure
torture, and to hope for his own death. He did not think he was
strong enough, or sane enough, to play this new game of Scorpius's.
enough for today," Scorpius said.
up. His body tensed as Scorpius rose to his feet, but his captor
did not come any closer. Instead his eyes regarded John critically,
and then he nodded as if he had reached some decision. "We will
speak again tomorrow," he promised.
he left, leaving John far more confused than he had been before.
Surely Scorpius could see how close John was to breaking. And
yet why had he chosen to leave, rather than pursuing his obvious
be good," he said to himself, and to those who were surely monitoring.