come to the command deck. At once."
through the comm, Zhaan could sense D'Argo's anger.
course," she responded. Despite her training, she felt her pulse
quicken with excitement as she realized that they must have reached
the Raisha system. The moment she had waited for would soon be
she reached command, she found D'Argo pacing back and forth. He
whirled around to face her.
have reached the Raisha system," D'Argo said. "Pilot tells me
there are no inhabitable planets here, no colonies of any kind."
nodded. "I did not expect there to be."
why did you tell us there were Delvians here? Why bring us to
this place?" D'Argo demanded.
necessary deception," Zhaan answered coolly. "If I had given you
my reasons, you would not have come."
are you talking about? What's going on? I can't get a straight
answer out of Pilot," Chiana complained, slinking into command
with her customary feline grace.
lied to us. There are no Delvians here."
tell Moya we must remain within this solar system," Zhaan said.
face appeared on the projection screen.
do no such thing," D'Argo said. "Zhaan has no right to give orders."
until you tell us what is going on," Chiana added. "Now start
looked unhappily from one to the other.
was it that she and Pilot were the only ones on this ship who
did not feel compelled to turn each simple request into a battle
of wills? They had no time for this. She could feel a growing
sense of urgency, a sense that was not wholly her own.
strode across the deck until she stood toe to toe with D'Argo,
challenging him. "You will do this because I ask. Because I insist.
This is not my request, but Stark's."
folded his arms across his chest. "Stark is dead."
He continues to exist, although in a form that you can not see.
Stark told me we must bring Moya here and wait."
for what?" Chiana asked.
it matter?" Zhaan replied. There was no use in trying to explain.
The others would not believe her. She could barely believe it
herself. There was still so much that could go wrong. Yet even
if there was only one chance in a thousand, they had to try.
kept her attention on D'Argo. It was him that she needed to convince.
Chiana would follow D'Argo's lead. "We will do this thing, for
a friend. You, of all people, owe Stark that much," Zhaan said.
face hardened at the mention of his debt to Stark.
will bide here for a standard solar day. There is no danger, and
it is a little enough to ask, in return for a life," Zhaan said.
gave an inarticulate growl. "I do not know what game you are playing.
But you are right. I owe Stark my life... and that of my son.
If you wish to collect the debt in his name, then so be it. But
in one solar day, we leave this system."
you," Zhaan said, inclining her head. She turned towards Pilot's
image. "Pilot, please ask Moya to transmit the signal used to
guide the return of her transport modules."
all her modules are here---" Pilot began.
please," Zhaan said, losing what little patience she had left.
Every moment spent arguing was a moment they could not afford.
Even now, Crichton might be trying to make his escape. And there
was a chance that the biomechanoid components he had installed
on his module would indeed resonate with Moya's signal, as Stark
had suggested, guiding him on his journey.
nodded, and she could see his arms moving at the controls. "Moya
has done as you asked," he said. "We have taken position in orbit
around the outermost planet, and have begun to transmit the recall
felt a feather-light touch brush across her soul. "Now," Stark's
voice whispered, and she could sense the enormous effort it took
for him to reach her. He must be very far away indeed. Her preparations
had been just in time.
her eyes, she raised her palms upward and began to chant.
is she doing now?" Chiana demanded.
D'Argo said, his earlier wrath now fading to puzzlement.
focused inward, asking the Goddess to watch over Crichton and
to bring him safely to them.
in her devotions, she had no sense of time passing. It might have
been microts or arns later, when Pilot's voice broke into her
senses a disturbance in this system," Pilot announced. "The gravity
fields are fluctuating."
brought her palms together, and concluded her chant. "Show us,"
main viewscreen cleared, to show the star field. In the center
was a shimmering distortion, which widened into a vortex of cerulean
is that?" D'Argo asked.
wormhole," Zhaan announced. "And, if the Goddess is kind, it may
Chiana's voice squeaked. "Crichton's dead."
Zhaan said firmly. "Crichton is still very much alive. Stark told
me that he would try to break free, and that this was the place
where he could be found."
are mad," D'Argo said.
kept her eyes on the viewscreen, feeling her hopes fade as the
wormhole began to shrink. Then a white craft emerged. A second
craft, a Peacekeeper prowler by its shape, followed just as the
wormhole collapsed on itself. The prowler exploded. Debris from
the prowler struck the white module, sending it into a tumbling,
indeed appears to be Commander Crichton's module," Pilot said.
"But it does not seem as if anyone is in control of it."
the module's erratic flight path was a troubling sign. Crichton
must be unconscious or severely injured. Surely the Goddess would
not be so cruel as to bring him this far, only to have him die
within sight of his friends.
use the docking web, and prepare Moya to starburst. The instant
he is on board we must leave this place. Scorpius may be able
to reopen the wormhole, and we must be far from here when he does,"
Zhaan said. "D'Argo, I will be in the infirmary. Bring Crichton
there to me, quickly."
touched the internal comm system. "Aeryn, meet me in the maintenance
bay. We have an emergency."
turned to leave, but Zhaan placed a hand on his shoulder. "D'Argo,
be careful. Crichton may have broken free, but he has been Scorpius's
prisoner for many months now."
nodded. There was no need for her to say anything else. Crichton
had barely survived his first imprisonment, which had lasted only
a few days. Now he had been under Scorpius's control for months.
There was no telling how he had changed.
hurried to the infirmary and began laying out her equipment as
she waited for news. It seemed arns before Pilot spoke.
Zhaan, the craft has been captured within the docking web. Moya
is detecting high levels of tau radiation."
radiation could be fatal to Sebaceans. She did not know what its
effects might be on a human.
warn the others, so they may take precautions," Zhaan said.
have already done so," Pilot said primly.
had already taken out her trauma supplies. Now she moved to the
storage cabinets, and began assembling what she would need to
treat radiation sickness. As she laid the instruments on the tray,
she felt a moment of dizziness, and grasped the sides of the counter
to steady herself. Moya had starburst, which meant Crichton's
module was now on board.
moment later, she heard Aeryn's voice through the comm. "We've
opened the module. He's alive."
lay on a bed in the infirmary, still unconscious. Zhaan had done
what she could, injecting him with microbes that would filter
out the radioactive elements in his body and nullify the effects
of the radiation poisoning. And the robo-surgeon had removed the
device from around his neck, which Zhaan had said contained drugs
used to control him.
glanced down at his still form. A part of her could not believe
that he had returned, and she reached over to touch his hand once
more, to convince herself that he was, indeed, warm living flesh
and not a product of her imagination.
months now, she had thought him dead. In fact she had hoped he
was dead, for the alternative, that he was still a prisoner, being
tortured by Scorpius, had seemed a far worse fate.
he had returned, as suddenly and mysteriously as he had left them,
and bringing new questions. How had he managed to create a wormhole?
For that matter, how had he been able to steal his module, and
use it to escape from the resources of a command carrier? They
were lucky that only one prowler had come in immediate pursuit,
and that it had been destroyed by the journey.
perhaps the greatest question of all was who had returned to them?
Was this indeed the Crichton they remembered? Or someone else?
thing was clear. Zhaan had known for some time that Crichton was
still alive. Indeed she had requested this detour to the Raisha
system over a weeken ago, to prepare for this rendezvous. In her
arrogance, Zhaan had chosen to keep her knowledge to herself,
rather than to share it with the crew.
swallowed her anger. This was not the time or the place for it.
There would be time later to remind Zhaan of the meaning of the
word trust. And how little Aeryn appreciated being kept in the
it's like the temporary mind-cleansing? Only with a chip, instead
of drugs?" Chiana asked.
returned her attention to the diagnostic screen, which displayed
a rotating image of Crichton's skull, and the loathsome device
imbedded within his brain.
do not know how the neuro-chip functions. Only that it may be
used to guide or control him," Zhaan said.
he's carried it since the Gammak base?" Aeryn asked.
nodded. "So Stark told me. Yet John remains unaware of its presence."
repressed a shudder. Such a device was a horror indeed, perhaps
even more so than the Aurora chair had been. At least then Crichton
had known what was being done to him. This chip was a far more
insidious form of torture.
promised herself that if she ever encountered Scorpius, she would
ensure that he died a slow and hideous death. Yet even the worst
torments she could devise would not repay that foul creature for
the suffering he had inflicted upon others.
say we take it out. Now. Before he awakes," D'Argo said.
shook her head. "The neuro-chip has integrated itself into the
fabric of John's brain. Removing it may cause great damage, or
any risk than to leave Crichton a prisoner of Scorpius's device,"
was an easy judgment to make, when it was not your brain that
would be destroyed if the operation was unsuccessful. But there
was logic on his side, along her own instincts that said anything
Scorpius had created must be inherently evil.
agree with D'Argo," Aeryn said. "I would not want to live with
such a thing in my head. Nor would Crichton. We should do this
much has already been done to John without his consent. I will
not make myself party to another such act. We will let Crichton
make his own choice," Zhaan insisted.
only thing worse than Zhaan being self-righteous was Zhaan being
what if Crichton can no longer choose for himself?" D'Argo asked.
question was addressed to Zhaan, but it was Aeryn who answered.
"Then we will make the decision for him. As his friends."
sat on a chair next to the bed, waiting for Crichton to awaken.
Only then would they discover if he had indeed returned, or if
this was merely a stranger who wore his form.
of the neuro-chip's control, Zhaan had prepared an injector with
a fast-acting sedative. Aeryn wore her pulse pistol. She hoped
fervently that neither would be needed.
sat crossed-legged on the floor meditating, while Rygel hovered
by the door. Chiana and D'Argo sat side by side on the vacant
had been here earlier, eager to see the alien of whom he had heard
so much. But as the waiting turned from moments into arns, Jothee
had left. Which was probably for the best. Crichton would be confused
enough when he awoke.
the radiation poisoning, which was surely a result of his escape
attempt, Crichton showed no signs of having been injured or harmed
during his long imprisonment. Which argued that Scorpius had not
needed torture to get what he wanted. Perhaps it was the brain
implant, or perhaps Scorpius had found some other way to control
was a sound from the bed, as Crichton stirred.
waking up," Aeryn announced. Her right hand slid to her side,
to ensure that her pulse pistol was free in its holster.
rose to her feet with a graceful movement and the others gathered
around the bed.
opened his eyes.
thought she had remembered him perfectly, but she had been wrong.
She had forgotten how blue his eyes were. And how guileless. How
innocent he seemed, despite all that he had done, and all that
had been done to him.
hoped desperately that he was still the same man he had been.
Zhaan. D'Argo. Chiana. Hey, Sparky! Damn, it's great to see you
all," Crichton said softly, giving them a crooked smile.
and Zhaan exchanged glances. Crichton should have been surprised
to see them. Or elated at having escaped and been rescued. Instead
he seemed strangely calm.
only this was real," Crichton added. He looked at each of them
in turn, as if trying to memorize their faces. Then his crooked
smile melted into a grimace, and he turned his gaze towards the
ceiling, or towards something only he could see. "Scorpy, I know
you're pissed at me for trying to escape. But what did you expect?
Have your goons beat the crap out of me, if it will make you feel
better. But quit with the mind games."
lifted his head, and began to struggle upright, only to fall back
on the bed, white-faced and sweating. "Feels like someone already
beat the crap out of me," he said.
thought himself still a prisoner. Aeryn had an instant to wonder
what other mind games Scorpius had inflicted on John, that he
could accept an apparent hallucination so calmly.
lay still," Zhaan said. "You are suffering from the effects of
radiation poisoning. It will take time for the treatments to work,
and to heal your body."
came through a wormhole," Aeryn explained.
turned his head to look at her. "Sure. Right. And the wormhole
led me straight to my only friends in this galaxy. You'll have
to find a better story than that."
pushed back her hair with her left hand. She understood his disbelief.
What could she say to convince him this was real? So many others
had played with his mind, striving to convince him to believe
in the unreal. What could she say or do that others had not said
or done before?
look at me," Zhaan said. She waited until John turned his gaze
towards hers. "The wormhole brought you to the Raisha system.
Moya was here, because Stark told me we must come here, and wait
John whispered. "There's no way he could know about Stark."
you remember him communicating with you?" Zhaan prompted.
swallowed convulsively, his right hand fumbling blindly on the
blankets. "Stark. He said. He said---"
closed his eyes. Aeryn grasped his right hand with hers, and he
squeezed as if he was hanging on for his life.
helped me escape. Scorpius had drugged me, but with Stark's help
I was able to steer the module towards the wormhole. Stark said
I might find help on the other end. But he didn't mention you,"
John said, opening eyes that were now bright with unshed tears.
naked longing on John's face made her uncomfortable. No one should
be that open, that vulnerable.
wasn't certain that he could guide you to us," Zhaan explained.
I'm really here? On Moya?" John demanded.
else would have gone to the trouble of rescuing you and that pathetic
module of yours?" Rygel grumbled, but there was affection in his
really us, big guy. You're home," Chiana said, reaching down to
touch pat his left arm reassuringly.
human. We are all real. Even you," Aeryn said, trying to reassure
herself at the same time as she reassured him. "Just look what
trouble you get yourself into, when you don't have us to watch
out for you."
grinned. Then just as suddenly, his face grew dark
won't let me go. He'll be after me," he said, with rising panic.
"He's got tracking devices on the module. Maybe on me as well."
raised his free hand to his neck, rubbing where the collar had
starburst the moment you were on board," D'Argo said. "And the
DRDs have already located and removed the tracking devices from
didn't find them all," John said, with absolute conviction. "We'll
never find them all, until he finds us."