Chapter 5 - Viva Los Kudos!

His gate was sure, donned in his black leather coat flapping in the brisk breeze with a swagger to his walk and powerful shoulders swaying. His pistols, exposed on both his thighs, reflected the garish colors of the sky indigo turned bright. To John, the mighty skyscrapers were lit up like Christmas trees, reminding him of Las Vegas, New York...no...Hollywood!

"You've got to be kidding me!" John said, looking at Aeryn . The lights played on her face. Aeryn an angel? he thought. Nah, but she sure was gorgeous in black leather. His mind was going crazy over her, and his heart pumped double time in her presence. He wondered what they were going to do about the baby and her returning to Moya with him. But now wasn't the time to address these matters. It was time to figure out what the Regent really wanted of him.

"Unusual," she said with a grunt. "No wonder they need surveillance and weaponry satellites, with this thoughtless display of fluff."

John couldn't believe that came out of her mouth. It struck him like a slap, "Hey, this is as close to Earth as you're gonna get, so lighten up." And, it was very like his old planet. They hurried toward Armana's "Temple of Gratuities," as guided by Captain Kendrell, walking beside them. They approached the largest structure in the city--the one that doubled the tall Sears tower. It was a stark contrast to the others and had an achromatic tone that flickered violet, magenta, tangerine, melon, lemon, then ochre by the flood lights.

Kendrell spoke in John's ear, "Alas, be gentle with lady girl here, she's a frisky cold wind. Brrrr." Kendrell mimicked a chill. John reared back with laughter, his eyes watered from the captain's wry remark. It was good to see someone else felt that refrigerator door open.

They witnessed the commotion. John thought these people couldn't have sent probes to Earth to televise the Oscars and then return to mimic the whole shebang. This was Yontur showing off her city. There were critters everywhere, including races he recognized--human-like Sebacians, gray-complexioned Nebaris, huge-type cranium Interons, tentacle-sporting Luxens, and others he couldn't name. Personage from afar streamed toward the complex like tributaries, silhouetted against the pure white light as their ingress was toward the lobby area.

"Vegas, here we come!" John hollered. He was amazed, seeing vehicles three limos long, pulling up to an endless slick silvery walkway that sported a crimson carpet to the entrance. Flying audio blimps, dozens of them, whirred above heralding the grand event in unison:

Live, here at the Gratuities!

Special guests...Come all...

Here to meet the Regent Mo-tan-nish-no...

And leaders from all around

Those who hear are meant to be invited...

Come and experience!

Live!...Enjoy the gala...

Come see leaders from worlds afar!

There's music...sweet music. Music...sweet music. Music everywhere. Everybody grab a partner. There's dancin' in the streets. That's what John thought it sounded like--that old sixties song. Though alien, it blasted with a rich resonating beat. It permeated him; caused him to rock. And, what topped it off were the large video screens, half the building's size, displaying what was occurring in the convex temple. Flood lights searched the sky and lit the structures, changing this time to emerald, gold, then crimson, flashing across vertically, then horizontally.

"What's with these people. We've landed in the middle of Gone With The Wind's premier...or something? Look!" John cried. A flash of ice green appeared among the crowd. It was Furlow all dolled up in a light green gown with a headpiece! Couldn't be. John touched Aeryn on the shoulder, "Did you see her? Furlow. You know, Dam-ba-da."

"What?" Aeryn filed in after a group of four turquoise aliens entered. "Come on, we're wasting time." John felt her snatch him inside by the arm.

"She's gone, maybe it wasn't her." John's voice was drowned out by the cacophony.

***

Just an arn before, when D'Argo returned from Moya with John's request for ammo, while they were in the Complex Royale's ready room, he told John about Palimous delivering the food. D'Argo had done the task of watching Palimous and the two barges' crew, two men to each barge, keeping hidden from their sensors. He told John about the overseer docking barges of food supply aboard Moya. They were compacted in storage chambers equipped to keep the food fresher than Moya's refrigeration units. D'Argo had boarded Moya when Palimous and the empty barges left. And, in D'ArgoĆs opinion, Sikozu and the overseer seemed to share more than judgment on food, especially the way she railed about him. D'Argo grunted on that note.

D'Argo also quickly told John that Noranti saved the Laka bug's juice and innards in a container ready made for John to sniff.

"She said you may need it; 500 microts and you forget everything," D'Argo said and handed the distiller to John. "I agreed. You know, Mele-On Grayza?"

John shuddered, tasting bile at the mention of her name, "Commandant Cleavage. I get it." That† woman had played whoopie with him too often without his consent. A sniff of her sweat, mixed with heppel oil, had caused John's endorphins to overreact. The Laka bug innards were the only thing that neutralized the perfume, giving him a clear head to escape her hold. He happily placed the precious vile in his pocket.

"Oh, here's your holster for the second pistol." He handed John the holster that easily connected to his main belt strap and thigh. "Pistol," D'Argo lay the gun in John's hand.

"Ryder!" John said, balancing the dark weapon of steel that he stored away after hearing the death of his departed counterpart in his left hand, and with his right, he unclipped his other trusty pistol. "Finally," his voice gruff, resonated through the room. "Wynona Ryder!" John smiled with arms stretched, pistols extended in opposite directions. He was happy; his balance was back, including his Aeryn. He bellowed with laughter, then pivoted 360 degrees, "I'm complete!"

John glanced at Aeryn, silent and aloof. She didn't look pleased, so he stopped and quickly plopped the pistols in their holsters with two resounding clicks. "I guess we need to get on with the show." John turned and noticed D'Argo held something dangling, wrapped in something like burlap.

"I've got a surprise." D'Argo unwrapped it and revealed a casing with weaponry. Then he pulled something out. "Remember this?"

John extended his hand, "You got it!" D'Argo gave him the shield belt. "I may need this." John patted D'Argo on the shoulder.

"Can't say you weren't protected." D'Argo gave John another hug.

"Well, you make sure, big guy, that Palimous and anything else he may have left behind, other than the food, is off Moya. And, make sure she hides so they won't know our location, got that?" D'Argo nodded and left for his ship. "Meet me tomorrow morning, and I'll try contacting tonight. Let you know how things went. Okay, buddy?"

"I'll keep a watch." D'Argo left on that note.

Afterward, John placed the weapons in a closet before Kendrell arrived for Aeryn, then decided to accompany Aeryn and Kendrell.

***

Lines filed at twenty different acceptance ports. Receiving each person at the ports were grand ushers, tall creatures that looked like a 1960 Chevy chrome bumpers turned vertical.

The ushers bent with steely hands and said in voices that bounced from the walls, "Put your hand in the portal detector, then you will be ready for entrance and protocol."

The interior lobby was larger than what John expected from the outside of the structure, probably an optical illusion, with silver white walls reflecting everyone's figure. Perfumes, aromas like apple, watermelon, rubber, and traditional ones of floral and spice clouded his senses--it would take getting used to. It was like a vacuum in there, no sound of the ruckus from outside, and none from the entrance of the reception area. Short tubules, six metras long, extended from twenty entrances, which likely isolated the noise within the reception area.

Directly before the tubules were the check-in points. "Your weapons, please," requested a small, purple biped with tentacles for arms, reaching for John's pistols.

John felt the slimy tentacle against his hand. "Hey!" he cried, and slapped it away. Strange. But what has he seen or heard any stranger? Oh no, he had done something wrong, noticing the perturbed usher, advancing toward him. John quickly relinquished his weapons and coat. He received a round plastic claim tag that attached to the inner pockets of his black leather vest D'Argo had brought from Moya. Aeryn and Kendrell did likewise, smoothly and without friction. Well, it was their galaxy.

A transparent, circular door slid behind the crew, then the one before them slid open. When they entered, it hit like a monsoon--waves of music, blinding flashes of colors, and tantalizing aromas of food coming from the reception room! John couldn't move for a microt, neither could Aeryn or Kendrell. Amazing. John's name and background was announced, as if he were on a popular football team at the annual Super Bowl game. He imagined himself running around the arena, arms raised, pumping as the crowd cheered his name. But then Aeryn and Kendrell were announced in the same fashion. They marched together side by side, glanced in the darkness as spotlights played on their faces. They couldn't see the crowd, but just beyond their sight, a table lit up--not a lamp--but the whole table and the square part of the floor. The grand usher had informed them beforehand that's how their table would be identified.

"Aeryn," John said as they approached the blue-lit table, "this beats Vegas." He chuckled and noticed Aeryn and Kendrell weren't listening to him. What was up with them? They should be enjoying the whole setup. Exotic food was spread on the table, ready to be devoured.

"What's wrong with you dead pans? This is it! Party time!" Before John got a response, the place lit up--lights bright like the sun--and then the music quelled. Adu commenced eating.

John, while chewing on a round piece of fuchsia meat, looked up toward the ceiling and noticed stalactite crystals with variations in style and size, were everywhere. John nudged Kendrell almost causing him to choke on the food in his mouth.

"Yo, Cap, what's up with all that hanging stuff. It's everywhere."

Kendrell leaned toward John, with an ominous blue reflective light against his melanin skin, and spat the food onto his plate. "Ahhh, observant. Very good."

John counteracted, leaning closer, "Don't put me through a litmus test, Cap. Just tell me what the heck they're for."

"Call me Adu. Those structures are an all-in-one convenience package. Each crystal has its own surveillance eye, integrated with the others, creating a 360 degree surveillance system. These crystals, my man, also serve as lighting and are very efficient."

"Sounds like a commercial." John grunted, peered at Aeryn, who was silently eating but listening also. John noticed she was wearing an ebony vest, which must've been hidden beneath her flight jacket before she took it off in the ready room. The vest was zipped over her spaghetti-strap top, a pity, he thought, he would've enjoyed the sight of her tantalizing, ivory landscape.

Kendrell continued, "Once those crystals are energized, they can be controlled by dimming, brightening, high-speed flashing."

John noticed Aeryn's brow crease as she sat silently having finished her meal. There had to be more to this. It was getting hard to speak once again since the lights dimmed slightly and music started up again. People that he no longer called aliens spilled toward the center of the room, which appeared to be a dance floor.

"Where do they get the crystals from?" he asked.

"Below in the mines," Aeryn's gruff voice was heard clearly above the noise.

"They're prolific beneath Yontur's surface," Kendrell said. "Sophisticated tunnels have been drilled from this city to others across this globe."

"There's a reason for this, John," Aeryn said, then looked at Kendrell.

"Yeah?" John cocked his head to one side.

"Yea, brother man, they can become explosive."

"You mean, one of those can drop and...Ka-boom!

Kendrell nodded. "There is an artificially made chemical, when mixed in correct proportions with the crystalline substance, contained in an encasement, and then ignited, can detonate to a one-hundred-thousand candle-light energy blast."

"You've got to be kidding me."

"No worry, my man, there is no such chemical here."

John feigned shivering, smiling, "Gives you the heebee geebees."

"That's what I'm here for. To deter any Ka-booms! as you say."

Aeryn sat back with coolness, "Tell him the rest."

"There's more?" This was getting worse by the minute. And to think, he had wanted to mix with the crowd and dance.

Kendrell drew Crichton's attention by locking eyes. "The compound has to be formulated with those very crystals up there, acting as the natural alkaline. Notice, I've said Ćartificially made'? The igniting compound is made from extracts of the crystal called CL3. I've been investigating and discovered a heavy shipment of it being transferred to an invisible buyer. There's been two large barge transports made possessing containers with CL3. It takes three parts of CL3 and one part of the artificial chemical called fribrium to make this dangerous concoction."

John could sense where this was leading, "What's the problem?"

"It makes a powerful weapon. Someone could destroy this planet given the right tools. The shipment was enough to blow this planet, taking at least three others. We have to keep an eye out. Not everyone wants this alliance to succeed."

John wondered why he was drawn into this conspiracy and trusted with the critical information, but with Aeryn here--

"Would you pleasure us with a drink, sir?" The waitress offered a thin glowing green liquid in tall looking lava lamps to them. John and Kendrell grabbed the containers. Aeryn sat back with arms crossed. What's eating her? John thought.

"Maybe neither of you should drink." Aeryn said with arms still crossed.

"Is it alcoholic?" John asked.

"No."

"Well then," he slurped down the ice-packed green drink.

"I wouldn't drink that," Aeryn had such a wicked smile on her face. John squinted and drank it halfway down, then burped. Aeryn grunted.

"OH," he cursed. "GOD! Has this got KICK!" He felt woozy. It was burning straight through him, he started to sweat, and his mouth felt rubbery.

Kendrell chuckled, "Probably some allergic reaction, should last only about eighty microts."

John leaned into Kendrell, "What does the drink do?" he asked.

"I've heard it can enhance the adrenaline or act as a depressant for certain species."

Aeryn leaned back in her chair, "He never listens. Look at him, and we're supposed to be focused."

"I'm focused," John said, emphatically, slamming his hand on the table, and perused the center of the room where the people were dancing.

Kendrell had already drunk the green stuff, "Go ahead, participate."

John slumped in his chair. "Nah!" His head lolled back as Kendrell got up and stood behind with hands on John's shoulders.

"Don't want to participate? Brother man can't dance? Alas, afraid?"

"You think I can't dance?"

"No!"

"Well then," John got up, flinging the chair back while heads turned as it crashed into another table, causing those seated there to jump from the impact. "Let's show 'em how!"

***

They left Aeryn at the table, but John turned back and grabbed her hand, "Come on, Aeryn. Scared?"

Aeryn stood, "Someone has to focus."

John pulled her toward the dancing area. She didn't resist. She put her hands on his shoulders and joined the dance with him.† His head was swimming, feeling her warm breath against his neck. He felt happy, happier than he'd been for cycles.

The music slowed. John held her close; he could tell she didn't know what to do. "Here, put your feet on mines. Like this." John touched her upper thigh, she stepped onto his feet. He did some steps--forward, backwards. She looked flustered but stayed with him.

"This is strange, embarrassing."

"No, no, stay with me. Feel me, where I go. Feels good, huh?" He cooed in her ear, coaxing her to relax. He sensed her heart patter against his chest. That delicious smell of leather and her skin tingled his senses. "It's okay, just have some fun, baby." He nestled into the curve of her neck and felt her silky hair caress his face. He could stay there forever.

Suddenly, the music changed, the tempo too quick. He saw arms lifting, bouncing heads, stomping feet...if he wanted to call the couple next to him having feet...more like hooves. The strobes were bright, sharp, making him lightheaded, felt good. The base resonated through him, pumped his adrenalin or was it the drink? he couldn't tell. It didn't matter.

***

Aeryn jumped off his feet in response to his erratic movements, no longer smooth. She stood erect, not making a move while he bounced to the beat, his head bobbing up and down. Idiot! She crossed her arms, began looking around for any disturbance. This wasn't going the way she thought it should. It was good until he started this act of an imbecile. He looked like an archaic piston, jumping up and down, out of rhythm from the others, causing sparks.

"Feels good, Aeryn," John yelled above the blasting noise. "Go with the flow! Come on, shake those shoulders!"

Aeryn peered at him, cocked her head to the side with arms crossed, "No!"

"Come on, shake Ćem like I did when I was in your body, like this." John shook his shoulders, then slightly bent over to shake his hips against hers. "Come on, baby!"

He is adorable, she thought, in his clumsy way. "I...I can't!" She felt him grab her shoulders, and he began to gyrate them. "This is ridiculous, I won't!" She swatted his arms away and turned to leave but was trapped by the crowd. She felt seeking hands on her hips and him calling to her, his voice like the deep reverberating hum of her prowler, "Come on, come on, come on, baby." In a spin, she was directly facing him with his arms wrapped around her waist. Strong arms. Strong lips and she touched them with her fingertips, his bouncing ceased. He stared, said nothing.

"John, I have to check on some things. I have to leave. Please. Get a handle."

"No, get a grip." This time his voice rumbled, low, soft, like a feline's purr. "Mmm."

"Remember you told us you felt someone following you." He kept caressing her, his hand on the nape her neck, the other on her hip, rhythmic, graceful. "If you would focus on what's around." She felt a pinch on her backside. "Crichton!" She jumped, then laughed with him. His crystal-like eyes sparkled bright with mischief. Despite his manliness, innocence shined through for her that night. She stroked his face and found the creases that ran vertically on each side of his cheeks...dimples was what he called them...they deepened with his smile. Her stomach flipped. Ignore and focus.

Then she spoke in her authoritarian tone into his ear, "I checked with security and no mechanics or techs were scheduled to maintenance those crafts today. So there is something out there."

"Okay," his voice was still relaxed, low, rumbling in her ear. "I'll keep an eye out." She could feel his hips swerve softly to the beat against her pelvis. It was enticing. Never, never, never had anything felt so good to her except him. John Crichton, she thought as she closed her eyes. She was glad she didn't take that drink because her resolve would be lost, and she wouldn't be able to resist this moment for their safety.

"I have to look around." She opened her eyes, unhooked his softening embrace, then went toward the other end of the room. She looked over her shoulder, she saw him standing still in the center of the room with the music blaring, people dancing around him, lights flashing. She heard him from far away.

"Aeryn?"

She turned away. "Frell," she sighed.

***

"Come now, brother man, thought you said you could dance." Kendrell plopped his hand on John's still shoulder. "Back there for a while you looked like a fish flapping on the beach. Flap, flap, flap, struggling for life, struggling for air. Do you hear me, man, the music's playing."

"Yeah," John said, quietly, barely distinguishable, "I hear you." He still looked in Aeryn's direction.

Kendrell redirected John's attention, as he gracefully showed him ways to shake and move without bobbing. "Keep your center, let your hips, shoulders do the work, not your head." John lamely followed.

"You want lady girl, you've got to have grace, patience. Work her like your pistol. No jerky movements. No self-pity. "

John stopped abruptly, squinting, and locking eyes with this stranger. "What do you mean?" he said slowly.

Kendrell took John by the arm and began toward the table when Aeryn came from behind and tagged his shoulder.

"John! Furlow! Over there!" Aeryn said with urgency, pointing. He turned, followed Aeryn's aim toward the dancing crowd. Only a few motras away, he saw Furlow of Dam-ba-da, the mechanic who fixed his module. The one who took the data on his wormhole research to barter his module back. PAID IN FULL with his counterpart's life.

"Excuse us Adu, we've got an appointment with an old friend." John grabbed Aeryn's arm, "Let's go."

John saw her talking to a few aliens, brown creatures shorter than her and thin as spaghetti. She was probably running a con on them. What shocked him was her dress. John thought all anyone needed to do was take her mechanic outfit, make an ice-green gown with the same restraints under her chest and around her waist, then take a silver headpiece shaped with holes, like a frosting cap...no...a colander, and pull strands of her sandy hair through it. Yeah, I'll just strain her thin, he thought.

Before Furlow noticed their approach, John interrupted the heated conversation.

"Pardon us," John said to her companions, their eyes bulged larger than the width of their bodies. John smiled, "We've got an appointment."

"Don't pay them any mind, they're old customers. You don't mind?" Furlow asked her companions that squabbled. She turned to Crichton with a wry smile, "Looks like they don't--"

Before Furlow finished, John and Aeryn braced her in a tight hold on each side. They whisked the twisting captive away, retrieved their weapons, except Furlow's, and rushed her through the tubules to the outside, where more cacophony sounded.

John and Aeryn, still not speaking a word, took Furlow down a dark alley behind an adjacent skyscraper. To John, she was like a porcupine--playful, cuddly, and eatable to unknowing victims, but painfully dangerous. This 280-pound gal he had to be careful with.

Before John could say anything, Furlow gave that innocent look with her vanilla ice-cream eyes.

"Here you are," Furlow said, slightly tilting her head, "The sexiest flyboy this side of Yuton."

That sweet quill caught him off guard. John responded with his ego inflated and gave her a grin. "Dang, Furlow, you look mighty spiffy in your rags."

"A girl's gotta do what a girl's gotta do." John noticed, she did that shimmy, shake with her head without her headpiece or hair moving.

"What's up! How's the entrepreneur Mama of Dam-ba-da doin'?"

"Beaming now you're here." Furlow looked at Aeryn, then John. "What happened to you lovebirds? Last time, you were so feely, feely...touchy, touchy."

Another quill. It lanced John's heart to hear his former counterpart and Aeryn were such an item, and everyone else saw it...openly...plainly. Reacting from the pain of knowing, John slammed Furlow into the achromatic structure.

"I'll give you touchy. We've got some questions you'd better answer or you'll be a part of this wall!" John sucked in his lower lip, his face ominous, tense, and pressed his pulse pistol against Furlow's temple.

Aeryn drew John's attention away, touched his shoulder and shook her head. John then released the pressure on Furlow and lowered his pistol.

"What are you doing here?" Aeryn asked. John saw shadows play on Aeryn's face. A dark unfamiliar smile seemed to form out of sheer control near the brink of violence.

"Having a good time, like you guys." Furlow looked at John, "I see you took my advice and let someone else be the hero or you actually did shut down that engine."

Another quill. Pain inflicted, thought John.

With a fluid move, Aeryn pushed John aside, and with her forearm and elbow, smashed against Furlow's throat and rammed her onto the structure. "You will tell us what is frelling happening in there and why these people are invited. Understand?"

"You can do your Peacekeeper thing if you want," Furlow said, choking the words out, "but you've got the wrong bait. It's you, not me." Furlow made her triumphant speech, John could see she wasn't giving up anything. He nodded to Aeryn and she released the chokehold.

"We've all been invited," John said, feeling defeated. "So it's no secret. Why are you really here?"

"Wormholes, Scarrans, Peacekeepers, and you..." she rubbed her throat "a melting pot of gold. I wouldn't want to miss it for anything. Oh, did you know the Regent's speaking at midnight and it's only eleven. And, you know, tonight has something to do with the lining up of three moons. Romantic isn't it, like a pagan celebration made in Armana just for you, gorgeous." John saw her scanning him up and down. Lusty old girl, he mused. Then unintentionally he perused her full bosom, showing as the sudden refraction of flood lights danced on her milky skin. She blew him a kiss.

John and Aeryn looked at each other. "Let's go back," they said. And they let Furlow go with a bruise to her throat. She strutted away in her ice-green gown, having pierced her victims to senselessness, as with the porcupine's quills.

***

They had returned to their table with no trouble, no interference, and apparently missed nothing of importance. While they were gone, the ushers had cleared their plates and dining ware. At the moment, there were entertainers, a trio, three creatures whose bodies convoluted, like contortionists with swirls of flashes, in and out, out and in. Disgusting. John leaned the back of his chair against the table, turned toward the front stage of the action. He crossed his arms, propped himself, and absently rubbed the fleshy part of his lower lip with the pad of his thumb.†

John noticed Adu had guarded their table while they were away taking care of business. It couldn't just be fate. It couldn't just be fortune. John leaned further. The Regent, Palimous, this whole alliance crap, what did they really want from him? John's scowl didn't go unnoticed by Aeryn's wing man.

"So," Adu said, slapped his hand on John's shoulder. John shrugged at the intrusive gesture. "This is your first time?"

"What are you gettin' at?" John asked.

"Entertainment here on Yontur. Strange isn't it?"

"Nope, no stranger than a cover-up."

John felt Adu withdraw his hand, probably the guy is smiling wider than Texas.

"Ahhh, smart, real smart." Adu shook his full bush of hair and finally sat beside John.

What was lurking behind Adu's eyes? Seemed like lurkers and lurking were on John's top ten hit list.

***

The dancing trio halted while the clanging, choppy music was replaced with a whiney flute. A voice...a whispered voice was echoing in John's ear. Secrets. Secrets. Never trust them. Don't be naive. Always watch your step. John made a startled, thrashing movement with his arm, almost falling out of his chair. Whoops! Guests' eyes gaped at his erratic behavior.

Harvey cut it out, not in public. John's arm now rested on the table, and he sat more erect. Rattlers, when do they cease? Oh no, not now! Harvey appeared with a tutu and ballet slippers over his black temperature suit.

John rolled with laughter, "You take the cake, Prima. Now, what are ya doin' here?"

"This show of expression is so exhilarating. Dance isn't it? How can you despise it?" Harvey in his silky voice, perused John's outward environment of dimming lights and screens lighting up around the rim of the humongous room. "I am actually enjoying myself. Thank you, John, for not taking my advice and killing me."

"Shut up!" John hissed.

"Are you all right?" Aeryn asked from across the table.

"Yeah, yeah, just thinking." He hated to get out of control, let them see him talking to the air. God, he was insane. Well, not really. If he behaved this way on Earth, he'd be behind padded walls. Poor shell-shocked Viet-Nam vets, they had their brush with death, drugs, and insanity. He laughed a hallow laugh. Yessir, he was a product of the Uncharted Territories, yours truly, John Crichton, new and used.

Havey twirled on pointed toes. Offensive. He'll never visualize ballet the same anymore. Harvey huffed and puffed and stopped. "You must watch out because this place is so...so wonderful. It would be a pity to see it go. Well, I must make my departure. Goodbye."

Harvey? You son of a--

"John. John, look," Aeryn nudged him and† pointed toward the screens. The† reception hall had filled with an encircling screen, the walls themselves a complete screen. And Aeryn was no longer across the table, but sitting beside him.

Multiple images of the Regent appeared, then different worlds flashed in an electrical reality. Some worlds John had visited and others he had never seen played on the screen. Then the images moved three-dimensionally from the screens toward the middle of the room. Overtones of the Regent's voice rippled the atmosphere. Holograms now, so real, brilliant, flashed, showing aliens, faces John recognized.

It was Snow White from that Utopia planet that John had visited early on in his accidental tourist career. Volmae was her name, the leader from the planet Sykar who started a new rebellion, locking all trades in place, starving the Peacekeepers of their Chakan oil.

The spaghetti couple were king and queen of their world and vied against the Scarrans and the hoofed people opposed the Peacekeeper's hope to truce with the Scarrens. But there were others mentioned by the Regent, many others.

Then, the finale. Moya's descent on the shadow depository and Talyn's destruction of it, and the command carrier's implosion. John was the strategist, according to the Regent's accolades. Yes, John was their main hero.

"Aeryn, how did they...how?" John asked, his face flushed, he was in awe.

Aeryn leaned close, speaking in her deep, matter-of-fact tone, "Analyze this. There are recorders, satellites everywhere, reading what takes place, always leaving a file. You know that Peacekeepers are very efficient. These people could have had a spy and stolen copies of these files."

"Secrets, secrets," John whispered, rubbing his lip harder. The rattlers never subsided.

The lights blasted at full strength and almost made John jump out of his skin, but externally, he appeared calm. He willed himself to stop being jittery and wished for his Wynona.

"We greet you my visitors." The Regent Mo-tan-nish-no glided toward the dais with an outfit, a glimmering outfit. The ruler's robe and hat were constructed of small shimmering gold coins. The rich fat cat poured out syrup-filled compliments. "Everyone, acknowledge our heroes and let us give homage where homage is due! Stand! Clap! Everyone!"

A thunderous response ensued. Chairs screeched back, bodies ruffled, and responded in the humongous hall. The sea of aliens stood with glee, clapped, cheered, and chanted John's name over and over again. So the Super Bowl vision was to be fulfilled here on Yontur. John stood and pulled Aeryn up with him, hoping the tumult would stop, bowed his head hesitantly, and plopped back in the chair. Aeryn sat in cue with John. A frelling, embarrassing experience, especially when he couldn't trust them.

It was an arduous night. The regent had invited John and others to sign an agreement to make an alliance the next day at midday. John planned to be there. He was going to tell them thanks, but no thanks. Once the event ended, John, Aeryn, and Adu left, retrieving their coats and weapons.

It was good to get some fresh air. It was good to get out of there with no explosions or assassinations. Great! He could relax. As they neared a walkway, John wondered why Furlow really was there and why they hadn't mentioned her during the program.

"Adu," Aeryn interrupted John's revelry. "I'll meet with you at the barracks." Adu nodded toward her and smiled at John.

"And the most reverend brother man, you must feel good," Adu said.

"Yeah, like eating crow," John said, looking toward the moons. Moya was behind one of them. Then he pulled up his coat sleeve and looked at his chronometer, midnight? It was a few arns afterwards, near dawn. What were Pip, Sikozu and Palimous doing? Adu had already said goodnight and left. Aeryn was peering at him, tilting her head. He saw her, but as if from far away. He felt a piece of himself was gone. Was he a copy, missing a part of himself or just plain homesick?

"I...I still don't trust them." John said, while walking toward the Complex Royale.

"You don't trust anyone."

"Are we going on this merry-go-round again?" His words came too quickly, too sharp. He hoped Aeryn wouldn't take offense.

Aeryn smiled coyly, "We've had good results."

He chuckled. She always brought him back to reality. He felt real with her and put his arm around her waist. It was so good to be back with her. "Okay, I don't trust the Regent, Palimous, or Adu."

Aeryn kept astride once John took his arms off her waist and began to gesture and explain. He stopped at the alley where they confronted Furlow. "See, there was no mention of Furlow. I would think she's pretty key in all this. And these people, they're rich. They're too far out in this territory along with the planet's resources being low. There's not enough water. And they're rich. There's a symbiotic thing going on here, and I've got to find out who it is."

"Then why don't you leave now? Avoid all this?"

"What? And not check out why they need me? It would be rude for me to up and leave like that. You know me, Aeryn. I've got to know who, what, why, when, and how. Besides, I'm afraid we're being set up like sitting ducks ready for peacekeeper target practice."

Aeryn shrugged her shoulders, "Then we'll have to prepare for ambush. Simple as that."

John raked his fingers through his hair, "It's not that easy with you here." His voice was low, deep. He pulled her closer, sniffed her wonderful scent that drove him wild, and gently stroked her face.

"What do you mean?" Her voice went to a purr. "I'm battle tested."

"I know, but--" He felt Aeryn's muscles tense. She abruptly backed away. "Tell me now, Aeryn. We've got to talk before things get nasty." She glanced back.

"John, do you see something, about five metras away?"

"No, it's too dark." But he felt his hackles rise, prickles up his arms.

"Wait," Aeryn paced ahead through the alley. John could see her shadowed figure, but other forms seemed to coalesce into clumps near the structure's wall. God, they were everywhere, and they stank.

"John! Ru--" Aeryn started to yell, but her sounds became muffled. A struggle was ensuing.

John whipped out his pistols and pulled the triggers to fire. No response. He sniffed them. The Chakan oil smelled flat. He heard Aeryn yell again, a strangling sound this time, but there was no pulse fire coming from her direction. He hit his comm for D'Argo. That didn't work either. Frell! Nothing worked!

"Aeryn!" John yelled, swerved, and swerved again, boxing at a massive, but indistinctive form that overtook him. He couldn't breathe or see. They blew something in his nose and eyes. Pain. Little hands grabbed him everywhere, suppressing him. Black little creatures with ember eyes. They brought him down, slammed him to the ground. John struggled, but they swarmed, then melted away as fast as they appeared.

"Aaaaeryn!" He yelled down the alley where she disappeared. His heart drummed too loud. His thinking became clouded by the continuous roar in his head. His chest heaved with pain. He bounced up and dashed toward her last direction. His hands felt the walls of the structures, then helplessly pounded on them. He hoped, cried they would open and deliver Aeryn to him. Nothing. He knew she wouldn't answer back. She was gone. Out of fear or sheer need, he kept yelling for her. Fury became his companion. His vision was blurred. His eyes burned. He tried to regain control. Aeryn could take care of herself. She could. He tried to convince himself. But they had stolen her, those dark, dirty creatures. The regent and Palimous! It's their planet. They have to know something.

He ran toward Armana's Temple of Gratuities.

Entertaining Angels continues with part 6 >>

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Story by Cathy Hubbard

Beta readers: I thank Ennix Sun for her excellent keen eye proof of grammar & understanding the characters. Phi Phi Trelk for checking it out and giving this a look over. Thank for your changes. Though subtle and surprisingly few, they were impactive. ScaperRed for her ingenuous and scholarly latest addition of "fixies." She can POLISH a story. (Also Julia, Eva... you guys encouraged me and helped with lots of fixies.)

Disclaimer: Henson, Creation, the characters, belong to them. Adu, Palimous, the Regent, & other extras like the Spherical and Yontur are mine. No money exchanged, no profit involved.

Rating: PG-13 for Adult Themes/Violence Genre: Drama/Comedy/
Shippiness/Action and Adventure

 
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