Continued from parts 1 & 2
in his quarters on the Command Carrier, hands clasped behind his
back as he waited for Relnik to join him. They had boarded the Carrier
earlier in the day but had not yet informed the Councilor of their
presence. His flight with Relnik had been quiet, with Braca himself
piloting, trying to suppress the exuberance that flying had brought
back to him. The Marauder didn't handle the way a Prowler did but
it was better than being grounded at Beta Station where he had spent
the last ten cycles of his career without any leave from the station.
He moved towards
the reflective glass and adjusted the collar of his uniform. His
face had grown older over the cycles, of course, and weary. He'd
been a Captain for nearly sixteen cycles, promoted under the auspices
of then-Commandant Grayza. He had done his duty to her faithfully,
waiting for the moment when he might take her place. Instead, Grayza's
command had reached past the carrier to Beta Station; he was her
second and now a witness to yet another Peacekeeper commander throwing
away a valuable career over John Crichton.
He and Relnik
had spent enough time in the Marauder for Braca to further consider
the timing of Relnik's arrival. Nebari spies had been seen in their
sector long before the attack on the station. It seemed foolish
to think that was all due to one man. Crichton held knowledge that
was valuable but so did the Peacekeeper techs who had built the
weapon and the databanks where the information was stored. Crichton
was not nearly the prize he'd been eighteen cycles ago when Scorpius
had begun his single-minded pursuit of the human. Why had the Nebari
expended so much energy on him?
voice came over the coms. "*Admiral Relnik here to see you.*"
his com. "See him in." He snapped to attention as the door slid
open. The Admiral stooped to clear the doorway.
The older man entered Braca's quarters and let the door slide closed
snapped his heels together.
"At ease, Captain.
Please. Has the Councilor been advised of our presence?"
his head. "Not yet, Sir. As you requested."
in satisfaction. He put his arm companionably around Braca's shoulders.
"Let me ask you something, Braca. How long have you been stationed
He said it through gritted teeth.
in that time, Captain? Any recommendations, commendations, medals
of any sort?" His grip around Braca tightened a bit, encouraging
an honesty that Braca was afraid to hold back.
Lyczac was promoted from Lead Technician to Captain. Is that not
Lyczac is a decorated war hero for his part in helping us defeat
the Scarrans." Braca was surprised that he was able to admit that
freely and without irony. After cycles as Crichton's sentry, he
had never considered how Crichton's actions had saved the Peacekeepers
from certain destruction. It wasn't until now that he was finally
free of the human that he had been able to consider that a sacrifice
had been made. Whether Crichton had done it willingly or not, he
had considered the lives of his children, and by extension, the
Peacekeepers. His freedom, his quest for his homeworld, his desire
to be with Aeryn Sun had all been given up for the sake of his children.
It was almost admirable.
drawled out the word and then released Braca. He pulled a vid chip
from his breast pocket and slid it into the holo viewer. "Captain.
I trust you'll find this familiar."
up. The images were almost colorless, taken from a surveillance
recorder attached to a Peacekeeper helmet. The picture swung nauseatingly
from person to person to person until Braca had to brace himself
against the console to keep from looking away from the images. The
only discernible sounds came from Grayza as she barked out orders,
and his own stiff replies to those orders‹"Yes, Commandant."
He was watching
the aftermath of Crichton and Sun's ill-fated plan to retrieve their
offspring on the Command Carrier. He hadn't considered that moment
in cycles, had barely given it much thought even then. But looking
at it now, he felt a physical reaction that made his stomach feel
like it was hitting the floor.
In the holo,
Crichton still wore the Peacekeeper infantry uniform, his chin bloodied.
He lay on his back, unconscious. Braca saw himself holding Crichton's
daughter. Grayza stared down at Crichton, smiling as she gave orders.
Two Peacekeepers yanked Aeryn Sun's prone body by each arm and dragged
her from the landing bay. He remembered that the guards had removed
the Peacekeeper shielding that she had worn so as to cause more
injury to her, continuing their abuse after she'd lost consciousness,
all at Grayza's command. The traitor lay limp and bloodied; if he
hadn't actually known Aeryn Sun was alive, he would have sworn that
she had died that day.
is more, before this part. But I've seen it once and that was quite
enough." Relnik paused. "These twoŠJohn Crichton and Aeryn SunŠ"
He motioned to the images. "These two had come to the Carrier to
retrieve their child."
his throat dry. "Yes, Sir," he croaked.
"That is our
ŚCaptain Lyczac', is it not?" Relnik's voice was low and soothing.
"This is the war hero's inauspicious beginning. Quite a blight on
Peacekeeper history, wouldn't you say? I can see why Grayza kept
him under such strict surveillance. No sense in any of this becoming
and his companions had previously destroyed a Command CarrierŠ"
But even Braca was unconvinced of his next words. "Whatever else
was done, was done for the greater good."
nodded slowly. "Yes. Wormholes. And I would say that Crichton has
paid his debt to the Peacekeepers by ensuring the continuation of
our race. John Crichton saved the Peacekeepers from the Scarrans
and managed to keep his offspring alive in the process. He stopped
being a nuisance for you a long time ago, didn't he, Braca?"
turned to him and felt like his mind had just been read.
Relnik laughed. "Do you think I would come all this way with no
knowledge of what I was going to find? I've known about Crichton
since Scorpius began his quest for this human. Without Crichton,
the Sebacean race would be a footnote in Scarran history. But this
chapter must come to an end." He froze the images that were replaying
in front of them and gazed at a smiling Grayza. "This is quite disturbing.
I suspect there was something more than Peacekeeper security in
Grayza's motives when she committed this act. Tell me I'm wrong,
his head slowly. "AdmiralŠCouncilor Grayza is my commanding officerŠ"
"Let me ask
you, Captain Braca? With whom does your loyalty lie? Because judging
from what I saw on this chip and what I'm hearing from you now,
I'm beginning to doubt whether you are the man for the job I have
in mind." He laid a hand on Braca's shoulder. "I know of her powers
of persuasion and I am certain you do too. So I ask you again, Captain.
Of your own will. Where are your loyalties? What are you willing
ago, he would have said his loyalty was to Grayza without a doubt.
Now, looking at the images in front of them, he wondered if perhaps
there hadn't been another way, a way that recalled the Peacekeeper
values of loyalty, sacrifice and honor. All he saw in the vid chip
were vengeance, malice and destruction.
released the hold on the chip and the images began to play again.
He saw himself walk towards Grayza, the tiny being still in his
arms as he stepped over Crichton's body. The child's mother was
gone. The child's father was their captive for Grayza to do with
what she would. His own expression was one of fear. There was no
honor in it at all.
have my doubts about the Councilor's ability to handle this matter
in the best interests of the Peacekeepers. I need someone I can
count on if she becomes unmanageable. Do you understand?"
a heavy hand on his shoulder. He pulled the chip from the viewer
and held it tightly in his hand. "I will do as First Command instructs,
I'd hoped to hear, Captain." He held out his hand and Braca returned
the chip to him. "This is a piece of history I never want to see
happen again. And I will do what is necessary to ensure that it
uncertainly. "SirŠis there more?"
laughed heartily. "Oh, Captain, there's much more. But nothing I'm
going to share with you until I can be assured that you are able
and willing to fulfill your duties to the Peacekeepers." He hit
the door control and turned to the sentry in the passageway. "Alert
Councilor Grayza that Admiral Relnik and Captain Braca wish to meet
with her immediately." He clapped Braca on the shoulder. "Shall
we see how Grayza plans to deal with this matter?"
Grayza.*" The guard outside Grayza's chamber signaled her. She turned
away from the holo in front of her, the image of the Nebari host
ship overwhelming everything else. It was irrelevant, or would be
once the other two Carriers had joined her in a show of force. The
Nebari Resistance movement was nothing more than a ragtag group
of children trying to fight both its own government and the Peacekeepers.
Ansofas had overstepped his bounds.
"What is it?"
"You have two
Braca and Relnik.
She hadn't known the Admiral was aboard, but the commed announcement
of their visit had at least given her time to at grab a robe. She
tied it around her loosely and turned to the door. "Let them in."
The door slid
open and Braca stepped in followed by an older Peacekeeper officer.
Admiral Telko Relnik, a man she'd never met but whose reputation
preceded him. She caught Braca's smirk at her attire and then he
Relnik said. "I take it we have come at an inopportune moment?"
"Not at all,
Admiral. I was just readying myself for bed." She extended her hand
and he shook it quickly. "Had Braca seen fit to advise me of your
Braca's fault," Relnik interjected. "My orders. Given the Nebari
situation, I felt it best to keep communications limited."
"Yes. The Nebari
situation. Please, sit down, Admiral."
"I prefer to
stand." He left Braca by the door and paced around, stopping to
look at the holo image still projected from the console. "That's
Commander Ansofas' ship? Quite impressive, isn't it."
as impressive as he thinks," Grayza said. "You do know what crime
Ansofas has committed, do you not?"
is that he holds three Peacekeepers on his ship."
"That's a rather
benign description, Admiral. His spies assaulted Beta Station and
kidnapped three of our people. And he is working in conjunction
with a Peacekeeper traitor. An Officer Aeryn Sun. Her criminal activities
are well documented. She should have been executed long ago."
shook his head. "That name is not familiar. So these three are being
held against their will. You're sure of that."
"Yes. My daughter Melanie is among them. One of our war heroes,
Captain Jak Lyczac and his daughter as well. The girl has lived
under my patronage since her mother's death. And Lyczac is part
of an important project. He is developing a prototype stealth device."
but his expression was blank. His presence was making her angrier
by the moment. If he were here to relieve her of her duty, then
he would realize that First Command had made a mistake. The ship
and its crew were hers and they would not transfer their allegiances
to another commander without a fight.
"Ah, yes. Jak.
The war hero." Relnik smiled. "Yes, I know of him. Everyone knows
of him, eh, Braca?"
Braca nodded emphatically and cut his eyes away from her. He still
had that smirk on his face; the sycophant smelled blood, it seemed,
her blood and already she could see that he was transferring his
loyalty to the Admiral. It would be his last mistake.
doesn't want a war over this, Councilor Grayza. If the Captain refuses
to return, it's best to let it be."
looked at him from across the room, her eyes narrowed in anger.
"Admiral, we have a project to complete. This stealth equipment‹Lyczac
is instrumental to its development."
surely you have other technicians. Lyczac didn't do all the work
himself. Braca can get us the list of personnel who worked intimately
with Lyczac, as well as the prototypes for the device."
D'Lay Yosten was his assistant," Braca said without hesitation.
"And it is my understanding that the device has been tested successfully
on a Vigilante, at least once. We have not yet completed our testing
on anything larger than that."
Grayza said quietly. "You are a fountain of information."
"Be that as
it may," Relnik interjected. "First Command doesn't want this to
become an issue with the Nebari. We are trying to build an alliance,
or at the very least, a stable relationship with the Resistance
movement. The Nebari Establishment has other weapons of destruction
at its disposal and an avowed hatred of the Peacekeepers. An alliance
with the Resistance might serve a purpose."
"And what message
does appeasement send to the Resistance? That they can come onto
our space stations and abduct our personnel? Steal Peacekeeper children?
Is that really the message First command intends?" She placed the
palms of her hands flat on the vid console and leaned across it
towards the Admiral. What game was he playing with her?
is to the Peacekeepers, Councilor. It comes above all others‹offspring
or crew. If you feel this attack is a personal affront to you, you
can extract whatever revenge you want. You're just not going to
do it with a Peacekeeper Command Carrier."
"With all respect,
Admiral, you have no authority over me nor should you offer a lecture
to me regarding my loyalties. I have attained my rank exactly because
of my allegiance and willingness to follow orders."
He offered her a low bow. "And it is true that I am not your superior.
I appeal to your good nature, Councilor. I am merely putting this
in perspective‹three Peacekeepers in exchange for an alliance that
would strengthen our position against the Nebari Establishment.
It seems to me that it's an uneven equation and the Peacekeepers
have more to gain than the Resistance." He smiled at her and clicked
his heels together. "I will bid you good night. Please consider
my words. With me, Braca."
stay here. We must talk," Grayza said.
confused. An Admiral and a Councilor‹the expression on his face
was priceless. He was an insect caught on a pin.
"As she commands,
Captain. Good night to you both." Relnik turned and left her alone
when did Relnik arrive here? And why didn't you tell me?" she demanded.
She took one last look at the Nebari ship and then shut off the
came aboard Beta Station after you'd left. He asked that I not reveal
his presence. I suspect it is as he says‹he didn't want to alert
the Nebari in the event they are monitoring our transmissions."
they're monitoring our transmissions. Aren't we doing the same?
I will grant you this‹you were right to leave him out of it. We
don't need the Nebari questioning my ability to deal with this situation
alone." She steadied herself against the console and leaned forward.
"Did he witness what happened there? Did he see the attack? Does
he know that we are dealing with terrorists?"
"He came aboard
after the attack, Councilor." His eyes shifted towards her as she
approached him. She drew her fingers over her chest and then trailed
them under his nose. She saw him shudder then his body relaxed as
he breathed deeply. She had begun to rely less and less on the gland
that had enabled her to coax so much information from Crichton.
It had begun to take its toll on her body‹ she could feel herself
grow dizzy. She fought past it and turned her attention back to
is the Admiral's true purpose in arriving at Beta Station so soon
after the Nebari attack?" She stepped back from him and waited.
What was it Ansofas had told her-- *My orders are specific, Councilor,
and not to be shared.* What did that mean?
"I don't know,
Councilor. Three days before the attack, the Admiral signaled his
intent to visit Beta Station. He arrived after the Marauder and
the two officers were returned. That is all I know, Ma'am."
"Yes. I believe you." What were the Nebari's orders? She turned
to Braca. "Captain, we will do as the Admiral suggests. Send a signal
to Ansofas and inform him that I wish to resolve this issue diplomatically.
You and I will take a Vigilante onto the host ship. Make sure it's
the Vigilante used in the trials. Have Lieutenant Yosten bring it
here herself. I want to make sure that it's sound. I expect her
to be here within a solar day."
at her. "The prototype? Councilor, the Nebari will not accept any
proposal to allow a Vigilante on board their ship‹"
will accept whatever proposal I make. I have two other Carriers
at the ready, Captain. I don't think they can afford to say no."
away and hurried out of the room. Grayza ran her fingers along the
soft fabric of her robe, remembering for a microt other fingers
that had caressed her similarly. Perhaps in person John would realize
that she meant what she said. If she came close enough to him, it
would be very simple.
his pacing and looked up at the sound of her voice. Aeryn stood
in the doorway, feet bare, wearing a pair of baggy black pants and
a black T-shirt. Her hair fell around her shoulders and for a moment
he felt himself lose his breath at the sight of her.
The years had
not been easy on her‹he could see that in the heaviness of her eyes
and the lines that creased her forehead. Grandma Crichton had had
a saying‹you could tell the way a person had lived his life if you
looked at the lines on his face. There was nothing in the lines
etched on Aeryn's face that led him to believe there'd been much
happiness in the last fifteen cycles. YetŠwhen she looked at him,
her mouth seemed to fight itself from forming a smile. No matter
what, she was still beautiful to him.
her arms over her chest and he watched as her chest rose and fell
with every steady breath. He had been pacing for arns, wormholes
and equations and death all forming a web in which he felt caught.
He wasn't sure that she understood it yet, understood why he had
such a firm stance against being a party to destruction again. She
didn't understand the blood he saw on his hands.
said. "Didn't mean to wake you up." He sat down on the couch and
rested his elbows on his knees, letting his head hang as he considered
the floor beneath his bare feet.
She sat down next to him, just far enough away so they weren't touching.
talk to you?" he asked. Chiana hadn't come back to him with any
crazy ideas about running from Grayza or making some escape or anything
to counter the offer he'd made‹himself in exchange for a stand-down
from the Peacekeepers in any conflict with the Nebari.
He looked up
and turned to her. Her expression was barely controlled; she looked
like she was going to crack.
still and again he watched her rhythmic breathing. He remembered
yesterday, how good she'd felt next to him, how tightly they'd clung
to each other and it made him sick to think how willing he was to
throw it all away for something as elusive as peace between the
"She said nothing.
But I know what you're thinking." She turned to him sharply. "I
won't let you do it, John. No."
even know what we discussed‹"
"I know you.
I know what you've sacrificed and I know what you would sacrifice
again. You've become a true Peacekeeper, willing to die for your
ideals." She looked down at her hands. "IŠI've changed."
reached out and brushed her hair away from her face, waiting for
her to turn away from him but she didn't. "AerynŠwhat did you do
"I killed him,"
she said flatly. Her body was completely motionless, none of the
fidgeting he had seen earlier when they had spoken to the girls.
"I straddled him while he slept, I stuck my pulse pistol in his
face, I woke him up and I blew his frelling head off."
"Oh." He sat
back, trying not to envision the sight of Aeryn's pulse pistol raining
Scorpy's gray matter all over a cell on Moya. As much as the son
of a bitch deserved it, he just couldn't get his mind wrapped around
Aeryn killing like that. Not the Aeryn he'd known.
"WhyŠ" he began.
to him. "There was no reason for it. He was going to help us find
you. We could have used him for Śbait.'" She laughed humorlessly
and held up both her hands, studying each one like it was something
she'd never seen before. "I know the guilt you carry with you, the
guilt of having created this weapon. But your reasons were honorable.
You and I both know the Scarrans would have killed or enslaved Sebaceans
and then every race after that‹Nebari, Luxan, DelvianŠThe Scarrans
are brutal and merciless‹"
corrected. "They were."
conceded. "I've killed for nothing more than information, gained
from the highest bidder. There was no higher purpose, no intent
to save my race or other races. My only interest, my only focus,
was you, you and our daughter."
murmured. "You talk a good game, Aeryn. Hope." He took her hands
into his. "I've put all my trust in you. The lives of my children
are at stake here. Please. Tell me this isn't part of your quest
I've done since we separated I've done because I love you. I felt
it was a fair trade if it meant I would reach this point." She squeezed
his hands. "Don't sacrifice yourself for this attempt at peace.
Don't return to Grayza, John. She will show you no mercy. She will
do to you what I did to Scorpius only she will make sure that you
suffer before you die. You and I both know that."
He raised her
hand to his mouth and kissed it. "We both know we're not proud of
what we've done."
She shook her
head. "IŠI've had a lot of time to think, to consider my life. XhalaxŠ"
She paused. "My mother. She was a mercenary for the Peacekeepers,
a trained assassin. After John died, I fled to a planet called Valldon.
I was looking for answers. Instead, I found Xhalax."
his fingers over her arm soothingly. They had never discussed Xhalax
or Aeryn's time with the other John Crichton. He had only known
the effect of Crichton's death on her and how it had affected him.
Maybe if they had talked about it, he might have helped her finally
work through it all but instead her grief had remained bottled inside.
When they'd finally reached some small point of trust, they had
been torn from each other, leading separate lives. That loss was
what he saw in her eyes now and heard in her voice.
to me that she had killed my father so the Peacekeepers would spare
my life. That was her punishment for breaking rank, her choice.
She spent the rest of her existence waiting to see me suffer the
way she had. Her vengeance drove her."
began. He remembered Grayza's words on the Carrier: *"This is the
life you chose as a traitor. A mate. A child. You were born a Peacekeeper
yet you think that you should be exempt from our rules and our ways.
Now you must choose again. Show me how John Crichton means nothing
make that choice," he said.
"No. I couldn't.
In that moment, I swore to myself that I would not become Xhalax.
But I've failed on all other accounts since then." She shook her
hair back and turned to him. "John, I had hope that I'd find you
again. I clung to it. But it wasn't enough. I thought my hatred
would end with Scorpius but it only grew larger. And that hatred
allowed me to kill when and wherever was necessary to reach my goal."
word croaked out of his throat. He put his arm around her and pulled
her towards him; she melted into him. "It's okay, baby. It's okay."
He rested her head on his shoulder and smoothed her hair. He could
feel her hands clutching at his T-shirt, grasping at him for rescue.
"It won't end
if you return to Grayza," she said.
"And you think
it will if I don't go back there?" he said quietly.
"The only way
I will allow it is if I'm with you. And if that is the ultimate
sacrifice you're willing to make, for the sake of the universeŠ"
She released him and faced him; the corners of her mouth turned
up in a slight, almost sad smile and she reached out her long fingers
to his temple, stroking his hair. "If that's it, then I'm willing
to stand with you. You will not die alone."
The door slid
open and he looked past Aeryn's shoulder. A'lya came forward, Melanie
slightly behind her.
began. Aeryn pulled back at the sound of their daughter's voice
and composed herself, smoothing back her hair and drawing herself
up into Peacekeeper mode. What was it Pip had said‹you could take
the girl out of the Peacekeepers but you'd never take the Peacekeeper
out of the girl. Nothing looked truer.
Aeryn scrambled to her feet and shot him a worried glance. "What
are you doing there?"
"We heard it
all," A'lya said. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared
at him. Melanie stood just behind her, lavender eyes transfixed
on Aeryn, her expression stoic.
"We were only
talking," John said. "MelŠnothing's gonna happenŠ"
her head but said nothing. He saw her lower lip tremble as her resolve
dissipated and she flung herself at him. He scooped her into his
arms and she buried her face in his neck; he could feel her tears
hot against the scar just above the collar of his T-shirt.
he murmured. He looked up at Aeryn and A'lya‹A'lya's gaze had moved
away from him to Aeryn.
"I don't want
you to go, Daddy," Melanie said hoarsely.
he said. "It wasn't supposed to be like this. It was never supposed
to be like this."
"You kill and
you kill and you kill," A'lya said to Aeryn. "Do you really think
you're that different from your mother?"
"Do you?" Aeryn
said. "Look at what you're doing, right now. You are my child, without
a doubt." She stepped towards their daughter and gripped the girl's
shoulders in her own strong hands. "So quick to judge without really
knowing. I thought you had inherited more of John's character than
mine. Perhaps I was wrong. Perhaps you don't have his heart after
as A'lya bit her lip; he could tell she was fighting back tears.
He had been so wrapped up in his own hopes and misery that he had
forgotten about his daughters, how they would feel about Aeryn,
especially how A'lya would react to her mother. She had reacted
exactly as she had been raised‹skeptical and untrusting. Her bond
was with him and Aeryn was an interloper.
answer my question," A'lya pressed on, trying to keep her voice
said. "Knock off the crap."
Aeryn's voice was soft. He tried to stand but Melanie wrapped herself
around him tighter, making it awkward. Aeryn turned to him and shook
her head then turned back to A'lya, releasing her grip on the girl.
"I am different because I don't want to see you suffer." She reached
out and stroked A'lya's cheek; their daughter seemed frozen to the
floor. "I told you that I would do anything for John. That extends
to you too and to Melanie. But there is one thing I won't do‹I will
not lose him again. If John chooses to return to Grayza, then I
will go with him. But neither of us will force that on you."
voice was muffled against his neck then she untangled herself from
him and dropped to the ground, standing between her sister and Aeryn.
She looked up at Aeryn, Grayza's lavender eyes meeting Aeryn Sun's.
John saw a flicker of uncertainty in Aeryn's expression; in that
moment, he was certain she saw Grayza in those eyes. Melanie stood
her ground between the two women who towered over her then reached
out one hand to each of them, keeping them apart.
said. "Just stop. Aeryn. You took us from our home. You brought
us here. You can't just leave us now. You can't take our father
a deep breath, and turned away from them, rubbing her forehead in
thought. She looked at them all, frustrated. "I cannot do anything,"
she said finally, her hand cutting the air emphatically. She knelt
down so that she was at eye level with Melanie. "I cannot force
him to cooperate with the Nebari. John, it's just one more weapon
to themŠ" She bit her lip and stood up. "They're not going to kill
me or you or anyone if you don't assist them. But we will become
part of this crew. They won't just let us go without some kind of
payment. We will be what we were before‹on the run, hunted."
She was trying
too hard to get through to him but she looked unconvinced that it
now, Aeryn," he said quietly. "Either way, we're screwed. Peacekeepers.
Nebari. It's all the same."
human," she muttered. "We'll work this your way, John. I can't fight
all of you." She looked from him to Melanie and finally at A'lya.
"I know this means nothing to you, A'lya, but Šyou are my flesh
and blood. I don't know what it will take to convince you that I
meant no harm to any of you."
away and went to her sleeping quarters then returned wearing a pair
of boots and a jacket thrown hastily over her pants and T-shirt.
"I will speak to Nerri," she said.
as the door slid closed behind her. A'lya stared at the door, her
eyes pale with anger and hurt. She placed her hands on Melanie's
shoulders but the younger girl kept her gaze on him. He covered
his face with his hands and leaned his head against the back of
said with a sigh. "It's never easy. Why is it never easy."
Lieutenant D'Lay Yosten stood at attention in front of the Admiral's
console. Relnik sat back in his chair as he played the vid chip
again, the one that told him all he needed to know about John Crichton
and Aeryn Sun.
He had found
the chip in the Peacekeeper databanks almost six monans prior to
his arrival at Beta Station. It had been the final part of his research
into John Crichton's past; it was so heavily encrypted that it had
been almost impossible to access. The sound had been damaged to
some extent and for that he had been grateful. His own long ago
military experience had embedded in him the sounds of hand to hand
combat. He hadn't wanted to hear the replay of Aeryn Sun's beating.
The images were ugly, split flesh and blood, an infant being wrested
from its parents but most of all, Grayza's sadistic pleasure at
the defeat of her enemies.
was infamous for documenting everything aboard her Carriers and
the Carrier she had won from Scorpius had been no exception. Relnik
had watched another chip that showed the half-breed deserting Crichton
and Sun aboard the Carrier. Grayza had not bothered to pursue Scorpius
once she had had Crichton and her instincts had proven correct.
Legend had it that a Peacekeeper had murdered Scorpius. Either way,
within a cycle of Crichton's capture, Scorpius had been forgotten
and never heard from again.
hadn't needed to remind him of Crichton's past. The chip had been
the first chapter in Peacekeeper history for Jak Lyczac. The current
situation would be his last, if Relnik had anything to say about
over and released the chip from the holo-viewer and slid it back
into his pocket. He had become obsessed with it, with the history
of a Peacekeeper officer who had so willingly discarded her training
for John Crichton.
Relnik nodded at her curtly. "What is the status of the wormhole
is jamming all frequencies."
"It may take some patience on our end. We can only hope that our
contact is willing to take us at our word." There was a signal from
the door. "Open that, Lieutenant. I'm expecting someone."
over to the door and motioned it open. Braca stepped in and blinked
at her in surprise.
Yosten?" He looked from her to the Admiral. "What is this about,
said. "What is Grayza's plan?"
"She is planning
to take the prototype Vigilante to the Nebari ship and negotiate
with Lyczac directly."
"Sir, the theory
is that the prototype can hide itself from all sensors with a minimum
of power," Yosten interjected. "Captain Lyczac referred to it as
a faint smile on the young lieutenant's lips; there was no question
that her loyalties were with Lyczac. "Lieutenant, how many of your
technicians know of this ship's capabilities?" he asked.
She shook her
head. "No one but the Captain and me. And Councilor Grayza, of course,
sir. Captain Lyczac was very specific about limiting access to the
Relnik said. "Braca, do you suppose Councilor Grayza plans to use
this device in a hidden attack on the Nebari once she's inside their
doubtful. I don't believe she would jeopardize her own life or that
of the child. AndŠ" he hesitated. "And I do not believe she would
be that magnanimous towards Lyczac."
"I understand. Such a death would be swift and far too impersonal."
He turned back to the young woman. "So be it. Yosten, ready the
Vigilante as Grayza directs. Dismissed." He waved them both away
and turned his attention back to the holo-viewer.
Meelak positioned at the comms console on the command deck, his
brows knitted together in frustration. The command deck was bustling
but Nerri was nowhere to be found. Meelak looked up when he saw
her and quickly shut down the screen in front of him.
she asked. She took note of the second pistol strapped to his leg;
he had only worn one for as long as she could remember.
said curtly. "Where's Crichton?"
"With his daughters.
I need to see Nerri." She frowned at him as he turned to her, his
body blocking the comms console and both arms folded across his
chest. His dark eyes stared at her, almost daring her to question
him. She and Meelak had been comrades for cycles. This behavior
was outside the norm and she was sure that it was associated with
John's refusal to cooperate with them. "Why are you wearing an extra
weapon?" she asked.
receiving transmissions from Grayza's carrier. They're trying to
jam our communications with theirs. Nerri's working on it now."
Meelak relaxed slightly but didn't move away from the console.
"Is that what
you're doing...there?" She nodded her head towards the comms.
jeopardizing our mission, Aeryn. You promised us wormhole technology
in exchange for Crichton's freedom. You do understand the seriousness
She rubbed her fingertips against her forehead, her eyes burning
with weariness. She was tired of it all, tired of the conflict that
had existed between John and her and his daughters, tired of her
position between him and the Nebari. If she could, if honor would
allow it, she would flee.
"Can you tell
me where he is?" she continued.
I will interrupt him if you have something to tell him that will
be of some value."
her eyes at him. "I'm not leaving until I see him."
"So be it." He turned away from her and she stared through the viewport
at the stars and the Command Carrier making its way slowly towards
against the wall of Nerri's quarters, waiting for her brother. She
had promised Crichton an answer but so far, had found nothing short
of tying Crichton to his chair until they could break away from
The door slid
open smoothly and Nerri stepped in, his face grim.
sidled up to him and tugged his sleeve. He glanced at her and smiled
but he looked past her towards the glass that separated his outer
quarters from the command deck below. She followed his gaze and
watched as members of the Resistance scurried back and forth below
them, some one hundred in all currently in command. Some of them
were hunched over their consoles, their stiff postures relaying
the intensity of their concentration on the task at hand. Meelak
was standing towards the entrance to the command deck at his own
console, alone. She saw him glance up at them through the glass
then saw a brief nod of her brother's head before he turned towards
repeated. "They're still out there, aren't they?" She raised her
gloved hands towards the holo hovering in front of them. He had
not shut it down since they had left the Peacekeepers' Beta Station.
The images ran continually; she had encountered him a few times
just sitting and staring at them when he should have been sleeping.
All three Carriers were visible now, the two more recent arrivals
still hanging back from the Carrier that was allegedly escorting
them to the end of Peacekeeper space towards the Uncharted Territories.
wonderful things, she supposed. The one the Resistance had agreed
upon with the Peacekeepers was just enough to keep them from having
a go at each other. This was the first time it had actually been
She had never
thought about politics much before and it still didn't interest
her too much. But she had learned enough in the time that she'd
been with her brother again to see that he was no longer a boy trying
to protect his younger sister. His obligations went beyond that.
The Resistance had grown stronger as more Nebari had tired of the
repressive and corrupt Establishment. Mercenaries like Aeryn and
D'Argo had also joined in the crusade but there was still not enough
strength in the Resistance movement to defeat the Establishment.
Nerri had taken
a huge risk in taking Crichton from the Peacekeepers; *Chiadda*
was the pride of the Resistance and symbolized its strength. To
lose *Chiadda* would cost Nerri everything. Yet he had put it on
the line both for personal and political reasons. John Crichton.
Crichton was the key to the Resistance's ability to finally defeat
the Establishment and entrench itself as a player on equal footing
to the Peacekeepers.
back was all she'd wanted, both for Aeryn and for herself. She had
lost lovers, had not felt settled enough to have a family. It was
just her, and D'Argo, and Aeryn, the three of them sometimes having
nothing more in common than the fact that they were without anyone
else in the universe.
"Did you speak
to Crichton?" Nerri said. He clasped his hands behind his back and
didn't turn to her, still intent on the images in front of him.
I did." She nodded her head quickly.
to her but his face was hard. There was no trace of her loving brother
in his black eyes. "And?"
"I...I don't know, Nerri. He wants to help, sure. I'm sure he does.
But if he gives this to us-"
"We don't have
much time." His voice was somber and low. "If those carriers overtake
us, I cannot guarantee that the Peacekeepers will uphold the treaty.
Did you tell Crichton that?"
"He says he'll return to Grayza before he'll do any more wormholes."
all for nothing. No, Sister, I will not let that happen. It's time
for me to pay a visit to Crichton myself."
up with Nerri as he strode past the command deck and to the crew
quarters, Chiana straggling behind him. Meelak had done nothing
to stop her from following the Nebari commander.
"Nerri, I need
to speak with you," she said, falling into step beside him.
is not the time. Chiana told me what Crichton is planning to do."
He stopped and turned towards her. "Please tell me you've talked
him out of that."
on her face said it all, she knew, because he turned away from her
and started walking again. "Aeryn, I understand the situation between
you and Crichton is difficult. But you made a promise."
wait a minute." Chiana caught his arm. He stopped and turned towards
had a promise that Crichton would assist us. We are at the mercy
of the Peacekeepers now. Make no mistake‹I will not lose this ship
or our cause for Crichton." He looked at Aeryn and laid a hand on
her shoulder. She didn't move away‹she saw the sorrow in his eyes
and understood his position as well as she understood her own.
said. "If Crichton returns to the Peacekeepers, they will kill him
rather than let him live with his wormhole knowledge. I will not
risk losing him."
her throat. "Nor will I. John is stubborn and he believes you will
use this weapon unwisely."
"As the Peacekeepers
did?" Nerri raised an eyebrow. "Does he believe that only Peacekeepers
can keep this weapon in check? The more races who have it, the less
likely it is to be used."
They were at
her quarters. Aeryn palmed the door control and walked in. John
was fully dressed in Nebari gear and she noticed that he had strapped
a holster and pistol to his leg. He was pacing again, rubbing his
thumb thoughtfully over his lips. He stopped when he saw them but
his expression was almost expectant. He'd obviously been waiting
for this moment.
A'lya and Melanie?" Aeryn asked.
I figured y'all would be coming by." His eyes never left Nerri.
Nerri said. His tone was sharp. "I am Nerri Ansofas." He raised
a hand in greeting.
for the rescue, man." He extended his hand. Nerri looked at him
suspiciously until Chiana nudged him.
"Take his hand
and shake it," she said to her brother.
an eyebrow at her but did as he was told, grabbing John's hand and
moving it up and down several times until John pulled away. Chiana
tried to keep the smile off her face.
John rubbed his arm. "I can see why you're the man in charge, Nerri.
That's a killer handshake."
"What is this
business I hear about you returning to the Peacekeepers?" Nerri
said without ceremony. "You are aware they have two additional Carriers
on the way."
"Yep, I'm aware of that. That's why I've made this decision."
"It's an unnecessary
one. This is about wormhole technology." Nerri would not be deterred.
"Can you construct a device to get us out of here?"
"Let me just
wave my magic wand..." John patted his coat pockets. "Nope, guess
I left that in my other jacket."
said. "Nerri, I apologize. John hasn't been himself..."
I am myself. I am perfectly myself." He turned to Nerri. "Nerri,
truthfully, I owe you my life. My future. But I cannot be a party
to this destruction again. I can't do it. And what guarantee do
I have that you guys won't turn around and destroy the Peacekeepers?"
"My word, Crichton.
You ask Aeryn the value of my word."
it. I understand what you've done for Aeryn. I understand that you've
lost a few of your guys in this undertaking. But I don't think you'd
be here without Aeryn."
Nerri's tone was softer, cajoling. He laid a hand on Crichton's
shoulder. "Chiana has told me everything there is to know about
you. And if she wasn't telling me, D'Argo was. Or Aeryn. I know
what you've done for all of them and if it were my decision alone,
I would leave it at that. You paid your debt for this raid a long
time ago with your protection of my sister. You were a brother to
her when I couldn't be. But. It is not my decision alone." His hand
tightened on John's shoulder.
"I understand. Politics."
"Yes. My position
is not tenuous. Don't misunderstand. But some of my captains feel
I've been soft on this matter, have taken it too personally. Perhaps
they're right. They believe that you should be my prisoner until
you cooperate with us. Perhaps they're right about that too." His
black eyes flicked at Aeryn. "I've told Aeryn as much."
is the thing. Even if I wanted to, there's no way I can build anything
quickly enough to get us out of this jam. Their treaties with you
guys stipulate that they won't start any aggression. But by picking
me up, you were the aggressor, which means they can retaliate. And
I know Grayza." He took a deep breath. "I know her better than anyone."
Aeryn reached out her hand, steadying him. He looked at Aeryn and
smiled slightly then turned back to Nerri. "I think maybe we can
negotiate an agreement with her."
"I've heard of the price you're willing to pay, Crichton. You heard
what I said. That is unacceptable." He pursed his lips thoughtfully.
"I have scientists who have been studying wormholes. We aren't completely
without resources. Peacekeepers don't have the only scientists in
the universe." He smiled tightly.
that point," John said.
"What are you
proposing, Nerri?" Aeryn said.
"What if Crichton‹you
just guide them. Would that violate any mandate you have with the
John took a
deep breath. "Wormholes..." He paused, and then continued, his voice
softer. "Wormholes eat me alive," he said, rubbing his thumb over
his lip. "Once I start, I can't stop. One becomes another and another...without
the proper stabilizers and guidance, we'll create a mess. You guys
just don't have the technology to control it. That's no knock on
your scientists. It's all me."
at him. His blue eyes were elsewhere, staring off into a distant
past that only he could see. She gripped his arm tightly and recognized
what he saw‹death. Those deaths mingled with the ones she had brought
about with own hand in a way more personal than any wormhole technology
could have created. She had stood over her enemies and watched them
die and recalled feeling nothing but emptiness when it was all over.
Not even Scorpius' death had brought her any real satisfaction.
began but a voice, cold and precise, echoed through the comms system
and sent a chill through Aeryn.
is an all points broadcast from Councilor Grayza of the Peacekeeper
craft Kierro. Commander Ansofas, I request permission to board your
ship to negotiate for the release of the Peacekeepers you still
hold as prisoners. Failure to comply with this request will result
in the destruction of your ship."*
"What the frell?"
Nerri hit his comm. "Meelak, what the frell is going on there?"
are jamming our comms, Nerri. You'd better get down here. Grayza
is on screen and waiting for your response. We have ninety microts."*
Nebari oaths and then D'Argo was on the unsecured comm channel.
*"John, it's true. Their cannons are locked and targeted."*
John said. "We don't really have much of a choice anymore."
into the locker for their weapons when she heard Grayza's voice
ringing through the system. She and Melanie had complied with their
father's request to wait for him in Chiana's quarters but, even
as she'd done so, she had begun to suspect that Melanie had been
right. Her sister, ten cycles old and hardly out of her first section
of cadet training, had out-strategized A'lya. She had allowed herself
to let emotions get in the way of clear thinking, the same way Aeryn
Sun had so many cycles before. She would not let emotions cost her
father his life.
"How are we
going to get to him?" Melanie said.
"Just get your
pistol, Melanie." A'lya bundled her rifle in a Nebari jumpsuit and
clutched it clumsily under her arm. "Let's get to her quarters.
Maybe...maybe he hasn't heard it yet."
"I don't know..."
Melanie looked skeptical. A'lya finished zipping up her cadet's
uniform and took hold of her sister's hand. They went into the corridor.
Nebari soldiers rushed past them, headed for battle stations or
command. She and Melanie walked against the crowd, ignored in the
The door to
Aeryn's quarters was open. A'lya stepped in and did a quick canvass
of the room.
"He's not here."
She ran one hand over her hair in thought. "He's likely gone with
them to command. And if we go there-"
there until she boards," Melanie finished. "Do you think they'll
let her aboard, A'lya?"
sound like they have much of a choice. She's going to want to take
us back‹all of us." She paused. "Melanie, those star charts. Where
"I put them under your bunk." She ran towards their sleeping quarters
and re-emerged, the charts rolled up in her hand.
her lips and nodded in satisfaction. "She'll want you, Mel. And
if you're not here, she'll come after you. Even with Dad in her
custody, she's not going to return to the Carrier without you."
She turned to her sister and crouched down in front of her. "Do
you understand what I'm saying?"
somberly, the smile fading from her face. "Yes...yes, I do."
long as we're agreed." She grabbed her sister's hand. "Let's get
to the hangar."
Nebari in battle
gear and body armor rushed past them in the corridors, some of them
going the same direction they were, some headed for command, some
for parts unknown. She felt like she had steel in her spine. This
was a battle, perhaps even more so than the one they'd partaken
in when they'd been kidnapped from Beta Station. There were no Peacekeeper
escorts, no Nebari Resistance fighters, no Aeryn SunŠNot even their
father. They were on their own and instead of fear, A'lya finally
felt in control of her own destiny. She would not fail John Crichton
the way everyone else had.
When they arrived
at the hangar, her resolve faded. The Nebari ships were well guarded,
technicians working on each and every one as pilots climbed into
them. There wasn't a spare anywhere to be seen.
a Prowler, a Prowler," A'lya muttered. She stopped and looked down
at her sister. Melanie's face was as pale as the Nebari, and A'lya
could see her swallow hard, fighting down her fear. A'lya set the
pulse rifle on the ground next to her and took Melanie firmly by
the shoulders. "Mel." Her sister looked at her blankly. "Melanie,
you're a Peacekeeper. Remember your training, Cadet! When you were
here earlier, did you see a Peacekeeper Prowler? Aeryn's Prowler."
remember." Melanie's voice shook
were there for awhile. Did. You. See a Prowler? I'm sure Aeryn has
one. A Peacekeeper pilot wouldn't fly any other craft, not in battle."
"Yes...maybe..." Her face lit up and she grabbed A'lya's hand. "I
remember! This way."
her to a far corner of the hangar, nearly abandoned. She could see
the hangar doors open as Nebari fighters flew into open space. The
call to battle stations had sounded but, along with that, was a
call for restraint. There would be no firing unless fired upon.
A'lya nodded her silent agreement with that order as they found
what she was looking for.
canopy was open, the ladder set up against the ship, ready for battle.
She climbed in first and dropped into the pilot's seat. Melanie
climbed into the jump seat behind her. It was an older model Prowler
without any wormhole modification but it was similar enough to the
sims she'd flown. A'lya snapped the canopy shut and moved towards
the control panel when a colorful patch of orange emblazoned with
a shape of red, white and blue caught her eye.
The patch was
wrapped tightly around one side of the Prowler's steering control.
It almost looked like a banner or flag of some sort, white and red
lines stacked upon each other, with a blue square and white star-shapes
decorating the left side of it.
it and held it between her fingertips. The fabric was unlike anything
she'd felt before and the shape had been embroidered to the orange
piece. Another patch with the markings *I A S A* was placed carefully
on one side of the Prowler's control panel. These were not Peacekeeper
markings, nor were they like anything she had seen on the Nebari
vessel. She stared at both items, not knowing what to make of them,
until she felt Melanie prod her in the back.
"Do you know
how to fly this or not?" Melanie's voice was shaking with fear.
Give me the charts." Melanie handed them over. A'lya scanned them
briefly and programmed the coordinates. She opened the control panel
and felt the Prowler come to life. They glided out of the ship alongside
a squadron of Nebari fighters.
"Do you know
where you're going?"
and completed the navigation program. "Somewhere out there. That's
as good as it's going to get for now." She felt Melanie's small
hand on her shoulder and she patted it reassuringly. "We're going
to be all right, Mel. All of us. You'll see."
stood on the command deck, Aeryn alongside him. She had taken time
to grab her pulse pistol and strap it to her pajama pants but that
was about it. He had sent D'Argo and Chiana to find his daughters
and hide them for now, to reassure them that what they were hearing
through the comms would not affect them, but that would be a lie.
glared down at him from the holo-viewer in front of them. He could
see that she wasn't on the Carrier. The setting behind her looked
familiar but he couldn't place it. She stood there, arms crossed
over her chest, uniform open as usual. The heppel gland wasn't used
nearly as much as it used to be but it was still her greatest weapon.
she drawled. The Nebari were still trying to cut off her ship-wide
communications, unsuccessfully so far.
he replied. He held up his index finger, pointing it at her image.
"My name. Is John Crichton, Grayza. Let's quit pretending, right?"
He let his hand drop to his side then he felt Aeryn's strong fingers
grasp his hand tightly. He turned to her and she offered him a quick
smile, lifting her chin just slightly, encouraging him.
Grayza conceded. "Did you really think Aeryn Sun's good deed would
shortly. "Never. Grayza, if there's one thing you've taught me,
it's the meaning of the word perseverance. That's the only thing
you, me and Aeryn all have in common."
Crichton," she continued. "Officer Sun has betrayed the Peacekeepers,
you and your daughters. She has put your life in jeopardy."
Grayza." Nerri stepped forward. "Our scans are picking up a smaller
vessel. We have not yet agreed to your presence on our ship."
a stand down of the Carrier. Perhaps Crichton can identify this
ship for you." She stepped towards a console and nodded towards
the officer at the panel. Crichton recognized the Peacekeeper before
the ship's specs flashed on the screen.
Yosten," he said flatly. He gazed at the young woman who faced the
screen but her gaze was rapt on the console in front of her. "D'Lay.
The prototype‹it's not ready." The Vigilante, the project he'd been
working on before going on house arrest and then getting hauled
out by the Nebari.
to him, eyebrows raised. "Prototype? Of what, John?"
He turned to
her, his hands gripping both her shoulders as he leaned in, his
voice low enough to avoid detection by Grayza's scans. "We were
testing stealth technology, " he said.
"You and the
"I had this
thought, if I could get clearance to fly it Š"
at him and he saw her swallow hard, understanding dawning in her
expression. "Escape," she whispered.
shrugged. Building that thing had been much like talking into his
tape recorder when he had first come through the Uncharted Territories‹a
lesson in futility. No one would ever hear those tapes and he would
never escape the Peacekeepers in the ship, much less be able to
smuggle his daughters out. Still, it had given him something to
do. HopeŠmaybe he'd had it after all.
his head. "Aeryn, the problem is that the ship has a working prototype‹"
slowly. "A hidden assault could damage *Chiadda* despite her armament,
giving the other Carriers time to come in and press their attack."
much." He released his grip on her arms. The holo of Grayza wavered
and then dropped off the screen. He turned to Meelak.
"What the hell
was that?" he said.
her communication with *Chiadda*," Meelak said. "Nerri, we have
another transmission. For your eyes only."
"Maintain our presence." He turned to Aeryn. "Under no circumstances
do any of you leave this ship. Is that understood?" He took a chip
from Meelak and went past them to his quarters.
D'Argo's voice boomed through the comm Aeryn had attached to her
jacket. *"Meet me in the hangar. Aeryn, your Prowler's gone. And
so are your daughtersŠ"*
John felt his
chest tighten. "What the hell‹" he began.
his hand. "Let's go."
Grayza's cut through the silence. Braca turned to her from his place
at the navigation console and stood at attention.
have cut off our communications. They've apparently found a way
to jam us," he added. He glanced at Yosten who sat calmly at her
tech console, entering figures that meant nothing to him. Grayza
had brought her along to use the ship to its full advantage. If
Crichton created a wormhole, they would be after him and he'd never
and stared at the stars and the formation of Nebari fighters that
hung near the Nebari ship, awaiting orders. The Carrier was within
firing range but she was abiding by Relnik's recommendation to not
use the Carrier as her own personal arsenal. There was no need at
were less clear. Relnik wanted the problem solved but he had not
given Braca any indication of what that solution should be.
Grayza pointed her finger towards the formation. "What is that Prowler
at the image. "Councilor, it doesn't appear to be one of ours. The
him off. "Lieutenant, magnify the image as much as possible."
and they watched as the Prowler appeared on screen. The pilot was
difficult to see but she was not Nebari‹long black hair was knotted
in the back of her head, eyes intent on the screens in front of
her, sharp nose and angular face just barely visible in the magnification.
The Prowler's windows were so heavily marked that it was difficult
to make any further adjustment to see the pilot. Grayza had obviously
seen enough‹her eyes narrowed at the image in front of her and she
crossed her arms over her chest. Her voice was ice.
What kind of games are you playing? Lieutenant, open communications
with the Nebari ship."
"I can't, Ma'am.
They're still interfering with our communications."
her expression tight. "Set your course for that Prowler. If the
Nebari won't cooperate, we'll take them ourselves. Let's see if
Ansofas has the mivonks to start a conflict."
voice was excited and scared.
her away, intent on navigation. The Prowler was unwieldy compared
to the sims and the navigational readings were unfamiliar. Now that
she'd had the opportunity to fly it, she realized that the ship
couldn't possibly have been used in any battles recently. It seemed
to be a hodgepodge of salvaged pieces with a communications array
that bore little resemblance to the sims or real Prowlers A'lya
She felt perspiration
running down her back. The atmospheric controls were minimal, just
enough to provide breathable air. Why had Aeryn Sun bothered to
keep it when she'd obviously had a larger arsenal of ships, all
more capable than this Prowler?
Her hand lingered
near the little orange patch on the steering column and she wondered
if it had any relation to her father. Had he noticed yet that they
She felt her
sister's hand on her shoulder again, shaking her and pointing. A'lya
glanced at the scanner then out the cockpit's window. She couldn't
detect the ship with the naked eye but the shape on the console
in front of her was familiar‹a Peacekeeper ship, Vigilante class.
Just as suddenly, the ship disappeared from the scanner.
a switch and felt a boost of power rumble through the Prowler, sending
a shudder through her. This was it, a real ship, their lives on
the lineŠand she was scared beyond reason.
"What are we
going to do?" Melanie whispered.
readings scrolled on the panel in front of her; she regarded them
all. Stars, nebulas, constellations flashed by until she saw it,
so close that she was surprised she'd overlooked it. A planet. The
readings told her it was barren but had breathable air. It would
have to do for now.
deeply. Her hands gripped the steering column and she noticed that
her fingers were pressed tightly against the patch on the column,
each indentation of her finger a perfect copy of the imprints in
the patch. "I have no frelling idea," she breathed as she made a
turn towards the planet.
"What the hell's
going on?" John stared at D'Argo in the half empty hangar. Most
of the Nebari fighters had taken up defensive positions around the
ship. Aeryn's hand gripped his arm tightly, almost steadying him.
Almost. He could feel himself wanting to shake with fear and anger
at all of them. "What do you mean Aeryn's Prowler is gone?" John's
gaze moved to an object D'Argo held in both hands. It was a Peacekeeper
pulse rifle. At the Luxan's feet was a discarded Nebari jumpsuit,
the one his daughter had been wearing when he'd last seen her.
"I don't frelling
believe this," John breathed. He turned on Chiana. "Pip, I thought
they were with you!"
She shook her
head and her whole body seemed to shake with it. "TheyŠthey were
in my quarters when I went to talk to Nerri," she offered. She withered
under his glare. "Crichton, they were there! I didn't think they'd
take off. I'm sorryŠJohnŠ" She put her hand on his arm but he pulled
"So you guys
went to Chi's, didn't see the kids, came up here, didn't see the
kidsŠwhat else?" He looked at the three of them. Aeryn's expression
was tight and worried. Chiana looked down guiltily. "How the hell
do you know they've gone anywhere?" he demanded.
chart was under your daughters' bunk." D'Argo held up a flimsy under
Crichton's nose. "I've been comming them for the last half arn and
they're not responding." D'Argo handed the pulse rifle to Aeryn
and laid his big hands on John's shoulders. "It's possible that
Grayza's communication frightened them off."
Big D? It scared the hell out of me too." He pulled away from his
friend and squatted down, rubbing the fabric of the Nebari jumpsuit
between his fingertips. He looked over at Aeryn‹she stared at an
empty spot in the hangar.
fly a Prowler, John," she said quietly. "No one else would take
them, John," D'Argo began.
"It's a fucking
needle in a haystack!" John exclaimed. He scrubbed his hands over
his face and stood up. "Aeryn, do you have any way of tracking your
She shook her
head. "IŠI had no reason to. But if they still have their comms
we can track their frequency."
come down to Śif'. We're wasting time here." He sucked in his breath.
"We're getting off this boat and we're going to find my kids."
said. "Aeryn, take Lo'La and find them. We'll meet at the rendezvous
with Nerri," Chiana finished. "Crichton, I'm so sorryŠ"
He shook his
head. "Never mind. Let's just get the hell out of here before we
lose them." He looked at Aeryn. "I can't lose them, Aeryn."
She offered him a half smile and then turned towards the Luxan ship.
felt the ragged pull of the Prowler's engines even before the sensors
read it. They were going to crash. The planet's atmosphere dragged
on the ship; she could feel the Prowler losing altitude under her
in the ship was sending off warning signals, beeps and alarms. She
heard her sister's breath coming in and out in short gasps, felt
Melanie's knees braced against the back of the pilot's seat. A'lya
looked at the Prowler's scanner‹the Vigilante was either gone or
the scanner itself was off-line. She had no way of knowing and no
time to worry. They were frelled either way.
to turn to her little sister and hug her, comfort her, apologize
but there was no time. The controls shuddered in her hands and the
Prowler convulsed as they entered the planet's atmosphere.
still there." Her voice was shaking.
Pick up the phone if you're out there. Come on, girls. Let me know
you're out there."*
The voice was
coming through her comm. A'lya sat up and turned her head around
to look at Melanie. Her sister's lavender eyes were wide. Their
father's voice was shaking and frightened but she realized that
her plan had worked. He had followed them off the Nebari ship.
the comm to respond. "Dad."
* She heard his sigh of relief. *"Tell me where you're at and we'll
you?" she began.
ship. I don't know what the hell you're doing out there or what
the hell you _think_ you're doing out there but send me your coordinates."*
"IŠ" She faltered.
"I don't recognize this comm array," she admitted. "Dad, nothing
in this ship is as it should be. It's a piece of dren!"
meant to be taken out and flown like this."* Aeryn's voice was steady
and held a hint of amusement. A'lya blinked. Aeryn had gone with
what the hell WAS it for?"* John's voice was clear over their comms.
Aeryn dismissed him. *"A'lya, listen to my instructions,"* she said.
in the planet's atmosphere and I don't think we'll have enough power
to pull out," A'lya said. "Dad, you'll have to retrieve us here."
Aeryn said, ignoring the fact that A'lya had addressed her comments
to John. *"Do you think you can land safely?"*
A'lya began, Melanie's hand firm on her shoulder. "I think. Yes."
is a beacon on the communications array."* Aeryn's voice was matter
of fact. *"Set it now, A'lya. Just turn the knob and that will enable
half an arn behind you, baby,"* John said. *"We _will_ find you."*
"Yes. I believe
you," A'lya said.
It was a sound without humor, cold and biting. Yosten glanced at
Braca. He nodded at her to continue their path onto the planet.
she said under her breath. "Lieutenant, you were able to get a fix
on both ships?"
The Prowler has already entered the planet's atmosphere. We won't
have a precise landing point for it but we will come within ten
"Good. By the time we arrive, Cri‹Lyczac and Aeryn Sun will have
already joined his daughters." She strode over to Braca and laid
her hand on his arm. "You see, Captain? Patience. Perseverance.
There is no such thing as blind fortune or fate. We make our own
destiny. When we find them, I will finish the job with them that
I should have fifteen cycles ago."
She drew her
fingers over her breastbone and under his nose. He felt himself
grow dizzy as he fought to maintain control. PerseveranceŠ
to the ship," she said. "I don't want her to witness their executions."
said brusquely. This chapter must come to an end, Relnik had said
but there'd been no other words of guidance. Was this how he had
meant it to be?
wasn't as bad as A'lya had expected. She had managed to set the
ancient Prowler down in an area of brush and young trees. It half
hung in the crown one of those trees, the nose of the ship dipping
so that it almost touched the ground. She popped the canopy open
and breathed in deeply. The analysis had been correct, at least.
she instructed her sister. "We're not too far up but I don't want
to send this crashing down either."
speechless. A'lya was still scared but she felt a measure of relief
that she had gotten her father away from the Nebari ship for the
time being. That was the extent of it though. How long before Councilor
Grayza decided that her father wasn't worth the effort?
think we should stay in here?" Melanie said, her voice barely squeaking
out. "I know it has the beacon on‹"
A'lya said. "I'm just worried that if it goes, we'll go with it
so don't wiggle around too much." She smiled reassuringly at her
sister. They just had to wait for their fatherŠ
Melanie sat up with a start; A'lya felt the ship settle further
into the tree. "I hear something coming."
be here already?" A'lya craned her neck to see over the open canopy.
The voice spoke before she could duck her head.
and Grayza. Abandon the Prowler immediately."
Melanie said, closing her eyes. "It's Captain Braca."
eyes scanned the crowded Prowler but she didn't see it‹her pulse
rifle. "Frell," she said again. "Mel, I left the rifle on the ship.
Give me your pistol."
Her voice was sharp and cold. Melanie handed the weapon to her without
question. "Stay down." A'lya stood gingerly, the pistol firmly in
one hand, until she was able to rest both arms on the edge of the
ship, the pulse pistol leveled directly at Braca.
back." She tried to control the shaking in her voice.
drop your weapon." His voice was soft, not what she had expected
in this situation. "Drop it and there will be no bloodshed."
whispered. "Shoot him."
turned her head to look at her sister in disbelief, just enough
to be distracted. She felt the sting of the pistol leaving her hand
as Braca got off a clean shot with one blast of his pulse rifle.
It was enough movement to send the Prowler crashing to the ground.
She fell back and hit her head‹the last thing she saw was Melanie's
face over her.
over the remains of the crashed Prowler and tried not to let fear
completely overshadow reason. He could hear the pinging of the beacon
Aeryn had described. The Prowler itself was no longer space-worthy‹it
was arguable whether it ever had been‹but the damage wasn't enough
to have hurt anyone. It was obvious that the brush had broken its
descent. The remaining lunge to the ground had only set the Prowler
flat on its body without benefit of landing gear. StillŠneither
of the girls was there.
clumsily into the Prowler and then emerged, her expression closed.
In her hand, he caught sight of a small patch. Recognition tugged
at his heart. It was a piece of his flight suit, carefully cut so
that the American flag stood out in relief against the orange material.
She stared at it thoughtfully then hit her comm.
Aeryn. Please respond."
voice ratcheted up a notch. "Respond now."
John lifted his chin towards a black object under the wing of the
Prowler. Aeryn was on it before he could move his feet. She lifted
it up towards him‹it was a partially blasted pulse pistol.
closed momentarily and she dropped the pistol to the ground. "They
brought these aboard when we took you from the Peacekeepers. It's
his head. "No, no, noŠ"
"One of us
should wait here in case they return," she suggested, taking a deep
breath to steady her voice.
He put his
hands on his hips and paced. "Yeah, right, Aeryn, get separated.
That's a really great idea."
separated," she snapped. She grabbed his arm and turned him towards
her. Her lips were tight and he saw the fear in her eyes, the same
expression he was sure she could see in his. "I will stay," she
I can't just stand around here waiting." He stroked her cheek. "Aeryn,
this isn't your fault."
find them and get the frell out of here, John." She pulled the comm
from her jacket and handed it to him. "These comms are very similar
to the ones we had on Moya. Just keep the channel open in case they
want to leave you here without any communications," he began.
She drew her
pulse pistol from the holster she had strapped to her leg. The sight
of her carrying a gun while wearing something that was little more
than pajamas was absurd.
worry about me. If we don't find them‹" she interrupted herself
but he knew in an instant what she was thinking. If they didn't
find the girls, nothing would matter after that.
you back here," he conceded then turned away from her and started
off blindly towards the brush, the silent comm held out in his hand
like a compass.
her eyes. She lay on the deck of a ship, her uniform dusty and her
head pounding. She sat up and reached back to feel the lump forming
on her head. Councilor Grayza stood over her, holding the comm that
had been attached to Melanie's uniform. Melanie stood beside Grayza;
the Councilor had one hand on Melanie's shoulder and A'lya could
see the tears streaming down Melanie's face but the girl didn't
make a sound.
Grayza." She felt her stomach churn with dread. The comm was the
one their father had used to find them; it was perfectly clear what
Grayza's intent was.
Captain Braca to retrieve your mother and father. They should be
here shortly, Cadet," Grayza said. Her fingers stroked Melanie's
hair. "Were all your questions regarding your mother answered, Cadet
know, Councilor," A'lya said softly.
"This was partially
your doing," Grayza continued. "Your inquisitive nature was something
inherited from your father. It's a shame; you would have made a
fine Peacekeeper. No one had rated so well since, well, since Officer
Aeryn Sun took her ratings. But, as you can see, there is more to
being a Peacekeeper than knowing how to fly a Prowler." She turned
away from A'lya towards Melanie. "And you, Cadet Grayza?"
don't harm my father. Please."
her on the shoulder and turned to the young woman who stood just
to her right. A'lya recognized her‹Lieutenant D'Lay Yosten, her
father's chief technical officer. A'lya knew that her father considered
Yosten a friend, one of the few he'd seemed to have on Beta Station.
Whether Yosten knew his true identity or not, A'lya had no way of
please keep Melanie here while the Captain and I deal with the traitor."
her lips pursed together tightly. She shot a glance at A'lya and
nodded her head just slightly in acknowledgment. Then she took Melanie's
hand and pulled her from Grayza.
Please." Melanie cried. "Councilor‹mother, please let A'lya come
not make a fuss." Grayza's expression was hard and she turned her
back on the pleading child.
A'lya said. "Just do what she says. We'll be there in a little bit.
It'll be all right."
until John completely disappeared from her sight through the brush.
One fist tightened around the little orange patch she held in her
hand, her other hand firmly gripping the pulse pistol. She looked
for tracks but the ground was covered with vines‹not even the broken
stems of the growth gave any clue as to which direction Melanie
and A'lya might have gone.
seared through her memory. Betrayal. A'lya had heard those words
and undoubtedly believed them. Were it not for Aeryn's foray onto
Beta Station, the girls would be there now, safe with their father,
no worse off than they were before. Aeryn had taken a gamble and
had met with the unexpected at every turn. She wanted to blame fate
but she knew better; she had told John as much. No matter what he'd
said, she was responsible for putting them in this situation.
back towards the Prowler and found the other patch from John's uniform.
*IASA*. She had never learned what those markings had meant to John.
She only remembered the pain of scavenging his quarters after she
had begun recovering from her injuries, frantically searching for
pieces of him that she could carry with her, pieces that would take
her back to that time when John had still been an innocent in the
Uncharted Territories. Before Scorpius, before Grayza, before the
Nebari‹before her longing for him had brought them here. The perspiration
from her fingertips had faded out the red, white and blue of the
patch; her grip had worn a groove into it. The little orange patch
and the IASA symbols had become a fetish to her, something that
had belonged to him. Sometimes it had felt like that was all she'd
her left side heavily against the damaged Prowler, still clutching
the pistol. She didn't want to be here, alone with her thoughts
and that anger that had resurfaced as soon as she'd heard Grayza's
voice filling the Nebari communications channels.
She had controlled
herself around John and hadn't wanted to admit to him that her need
to destroy the woman who had almost destroyed her was nearly as
great as their need to find his daughters. There was no point in
trying to describe how love and hate could coexist in her so strongly.
The image of Xhalax, her expression of hate and fury, had haunted
Aeryn in the years of her separation from John. He was the one who'd
made her a better person, had brought out the part of her that wanted
to protect and love a child she had never known. Yet, she had identified
with her own mother on a primitive level, wanting to extract revenge
from Mele-On Grayza, slowly kill her until she begged for her life.
It was a horrible, shameful thing to admit and the more she tried
to push it off, the more it came to her, unbidden.
weapon, Officer Sun."
The point of
a pulse rifle pushed Aeryn in the small of her back. The woman's
voice was dispassionate. Aeryn whirled around and in one motion,
head-butted Mele-On Grayza in the stomach. Grayza tumbled backwards
but grabbed Aeryn by the arm, bringing her down as well. The pulse
rifle and Aeryn's pistol went tumbling away from them. Aeryn tried
to grapple for one of the weapons but Grayza caught her wrists,
her grip much stronger than Aeryn had anticipated.
is as good as dead without your cooperation," Grayza said. She didn't
even sound like she'd exerted herself.
away from Grayza and drew her fist back. The knuckles of her right
just grazed the Councilor's cheekbone as the woman rolled towards
the discarded pulse pistol. Aeryn reached for it and wrested it
from Grayza's pale hands, moving so that she had pinned the Councilor
Grayza," Aeryn said. She held the pistol against Grayza's forehead.
The lavender eyes stared into Aeryn's own‹there was no fear there,
just a look that mocked her and dared her to pull the trigger. "You've
earned this moment, Councilor." She spat out the words, her knees
digging into Grayza's arms, holding her firmly to the ground. "You.
Took. Everything. " She pushed the pulse pistol into Grayza's forehead
but still the Councilor didn't flinch.
"No. No." A'lya's
voice was hurried. "Don't kill her. Aeryn."
up to see A'lya standing over her, eyes widened with fear. The girl's
hands were bound in Peacekeeper cuffs. Her broken comm hung from
her uniform. Aeryn had no idea where she'd come from‹she'd seen
no one but Grayza.
"It has to
end, A'lya," Aeryn said. "She will never let us go. She will never
let us rest."
do it," A'lya said. "ItŠthere has to be another way. For Melanie."
"There is no
other way. Don't you understand that? She's destroyed my past and
is stealing my future. I will not let her do that again."
"Oh, Officer Sun. What a speech. Just end it, then. End this charade
so that Braca can arrest you for the murder of a Councilor. Between
that and your other crimes, the Living Death will be too merciful
stepped forward and put her bound hands on Aeryn's shoulder. "Mother."
She forced the word out. "If you kill her, you'll have gained nothing.
One more death, and then yours. And my father's."
her hand start to shake but she steadied the pistol with both hands.
Her breath came in hard, sharp gasps.
"Let my daughter
go," Aeryn said, the pistol still pressed against Grayza's forehead.
"Let her go and I will spare your life."
you are in no position to negotiate. Braca has summoned reinforcements.
It's just a matter of time, really."
find you dead, Grayza." Her finger twitched on the trigger of the
gun but she didn't have time to pull the trigger. A'lya slammed
her body into Aeryn, knocking her off the Councilor. Grayza grabbed
the pulse rifle and trained it on both of them.
sat back, hands flat behind her, supporting her weight, too stunned
to move. "A'lya." Her throat was constricted. The Peacekeeper indoctrination
that had been instilled in A'lya since birth was stronger than Aeryn's
own upbringing had been. The girl was a Peacekeeper above all else.
"I don't want
you to kill anyone else!" A'lya said finally, her voice shaking.
"No more blood on your hands, Aeryn."
dead," Aeryn said heavily. She forced herself to her feet and moved,
weaponless, towards Grayza. The Councilor grabbed A'lya and pointed
the rifle at the back of the girl's head.
"It took fifteen
cycles but I see you've finally made your choice, Officer Sun,"
Grayza said slowly. "Death for all of you." She pointed the rifle
at Aeryn and fired.
the pistol blast and it stopped him in his tracks. The comm was
still dead but the shot had come from the direction of the Prowler.
He stood for just a microt‹Aeryn, the girls‹it could have been either
of them. He turned towards the sound and started to run.
said softly. She dropped to her knees and stared at the lifeless
body that lay in front of her. The eyes were staring and empty but
the expression was still bitter.
was dead. A'lya turned her head away and stepped back from the body.
Captain Braca stood with the pulse rifle aimed at both of them,
his expression hard.
he said. He nudged the rifle towards Aeryn.
her head slowly. She felt cemented to the ground, her gaze fixed
on Grayza as she felt relief flood through her. "You killed herŠ"
he repeated. "Cadet Lyczac?"
know." A'lya averted her gaze away from all of them. "Looking for
"Give me that
comm." Braca ripped it from her uniform before she could respond.
He tapped it but heard nothing but static.
heavy footfalls through the thick grass and turned to see John moving
towards them, his pulse pistol leveled at Braca. "Aeryn!" he shouted.
"What the hell's going on?" His gaze moved from Aeryn to A'lya to
Braca and then finally on the dead body of Mele-On Grayza. "Aeryn?
"Dad, it was
the Captain," A'lya said.
moved until he stood between Aeryn and the Peacekeeper, one hand
drawing A'lya behind him.
Crichton. You, your children, yourŠmate." Braca spat out the last
word and motioned with the rifle at the three of them. "I have my
orders. You are to leave Peacekeeper space immediately. How you
do that is your problem."
his head quickly, unsure. "WhatŠ"
you go!" Braca shouted. "This ordeal is over. Do you understand
me?" He moved towards John and stood toe to toe with him. "Lieutenant
Yosten has Melanie. We will give her to you then you will leave
this area and never return. Give me your ship's coordinates now."
"This is some
kind of trickŠ" John began.
to have to trust me if you're to leave this sector. Your coordinates?"
to him, John." Aeryn stood up and moved slowly towards A'lya. Braca
looked at her then tossed her the key to the handcuffs. Aeryn undid
A'lya," she whispered. She took her daughter in her arms and held
her tightly. The girl's slim body shook with fear and grief against
her, her sobs uncontrollable. Aeryn stepped back and smoothed her
daughter's thick black hair. "You were right. Thank you."
"This is where
it ends." Braca gestured, and Lieutenant Yosten let go of Melanie's
hand. D'Lay Yosten offered Crichton a quick nod and a smile then
returned to the Vigilante. The girl ran to her father, and John
swooped her up into his arms where she wrapped herself tightly against
him, looking over his shoulder at A'lya and Aeryn.
be rewritten," Braca said. "I'll wager in one cycle, no one in Peacekeeper
space will remember you."
you, Braca?" Crichton offered him a crooked smile.
his back proudly. "Me? I will be glad to never think about you again."
your orders?" John asked.
at Crichton's children, the two Peacekeeper cadets looking like
little more than infants to him. Aeryn Sun stood next to Crichton,
bloodied and dirty from her fight with Grayza, her expression soft.
It was the first time he'd seen anything less than gritty determination
in Officer Sun's gray blue eyes.
were to solve the problem of your existence and Grayza's obsession,"
Braca answered. "The solution itself was up to me. The Peacekeepers
will not miss you, Crichton." Thoughts of Relnik's vid chip came
to mind but he dismissed them quickly; it was over for him as well.
He turned and entered the Vigilante, the hatch clanging shut behind
replaying the chip again when Braca's voice filled the Admiral's
quarters. *"Councilor Grayza was killed in the line of duty, a hero
to her people. Captain Lyczac, the traitor Aeryn Sun and the Captain's
two daughters were killed in the crash of their ship."*
"Councilor Grayza served our people well," he intoned, although
he doubted the veracity of both his words and Braca's. "Report back
at once, *Commandant* Braca. Beta Station and *Kierro* need you.
A commanding officer's place is with his ship, especially in this
time of sorrow."
There was a
pause and then Braca cleared his throat. "Lieutenant Yosten and
I will return to our duty stations, Admiral." His voice was crisp
his assent and turned his attention to his communications console,
fingers moving over the controls until he found the encrypted channel.
data transmission is complete. And your side of this arrangement?"
is in place, Admiral. Commander Ansofas has proclaimed it. We will
work as allies against Nebari Prime."*
"This was the
right thing to do, Captain. Crichton was reticentŠwe couldn't afford
to have him fall into the wrong hands."
The Nebari sighed heavily. *"What happened to Crichton?"*
"He and his
family were killed in a crash on the planet," Relnik said.
one word, but it betrayed the young Captain's sorrow at the loss.
*"Officer Sun was a comradeŠa friendŠand CrichtonŠ"*
"I am not the
one to whom you should offer the eulogy, Captain. Sometimes we have
to make great sacrifices for our cause."
ended abruptly. Admiral Telko Relnik turned his attention back to
the images on the vid chip, images that had now been burned into
his memory. He took the old vid chip from the viewer and rubbed
it between his fingers before dropping it to the floor and crushing
it under his heel.
and their daughters approached the broken Prowler. Melanie's face
was buried in his shoulder as he hung tightly onto her, her sniffles
the only thing that had broken the silence. Aeryn walked just behind
him, her hand on A'lya's arm, guiding her. He'd noticed that his
eldest had not looked at either him or Aeryn since losing control
after he'd found them in the clearing with Grayza's body.
Melanie said against his shoulder.
stopped and she pulled away from him. Her eyes were wet from crying
and her nose ran a little. She wiped her sleeve across it and looked
at him then at Aeryn and A'lya.
do you have to be sorry for?" he said.
my idea, to run away like that. When I heard my moth‹the Councilor's
voice, we were afraid. I had the star charts and we took the Prowler
started long before you were born," Aeryn interrupted.
said. He stopped and set her in front of the Prowler then squatted
down to her eye level. "Melanie. I love you. Nothing, no one will
ever hurt us or threaten us again." He pushed her black hair away
from her eyes, sighing. The Nebari. There were still the Nebari,
Chiana and D'Argo with them. He didn't know how desperate the Nebari
were or if they would stoop to using his friends against him.
began. "The Nebari still want the technology‹"
"Yes." She leaned against her dead ship, rubbing her fingertips
across its damaged hull absent-mindedly. He saw the little bit of
orange and the white of the *IASA* patch sticking out from her gun
he began. "You said it wasn't meant to be flown. WhatŠwhat was it
and shook her head, looking suddenly embarrassed at the question.
"I went to it when I needed refuge. It hasn't seen battle in almost
fourteen cycles. IŠI wanted to bring your module butŠI could neverŠI
could never face flying it without youŠ"
His face broke
into a smile. "My moduleŠ" He laughed softly. "SentimentalŠkind
of a human trait."
slightly in return. "Yes. One of those things I learned from you."
She turned to A'lya and put her hand under the girl's lowered chin,
raising it until their daughter's eyes met Aeryn's. "You understood
more than I realized, A'lya. Like your father, you forced me toŠ"
She faltered, searching for words. "Be more."
nothing. John studied her expression. She looked more like a kid
than she ever had before. The Peacekeeper bearing that had been
ingrained in her since birth was gone; she was just a fifteen-year-old
girl, confused and scared but willing to learn.
back to Lo'La," he said. He reached for A'lya's hand but she withdrew
and shook her head at him. He gazed at her, puzzled, then watched
as she took hold of Aeryn's hand and laid it gently in his.
she agreed quietly. She took Melanie by the hand and the two girls
followed their parents to the ship.
was excited, calling his name when they returned to Lo'La.
Aeryn! Answer me. Come onŠ"*
Aeryn was the
first to respond. "Chiana‹"
cry burst through the transmitter. *"You're alive! I knew it. I
knew it. D'Argo, didn't I tell you."*
I told you. John, Aeryn, the Peacekeepers said you'd crashed but
I knew Lo'La was intact. Nerri thinks you're dead."* He paused.
*"They‹the Resistance has formed an alliance with a Peacekeeper
Admiral. Relnik. Nerri gave a speech, told everyone about your deaths.
I don't know what exactly he gained in return butŠ"*
John said. "Relnik gave him wormholes, Nerri joins him and they
defeat Nebari Prime. Relnik has a reputationŠ" He turned to Aeryn.
"He's pretty famous in PK space, a stickler for old values."
"Loyalty, honor, sacrifice. Yes. I understand."
Chiana interrupted. *"What the hezmana happened down there?"*
at his children sitting behind them on the floor. They were both
dirty and emotionally wasted. "Long story, Pip. And I think I have
some others to tell before we're done." He paused and took Aeryn's
hand. "Aeryn, about this rendezvous point of yoursŠ"
said. She tightened her grip around his hand. "And then from there
it is completely up to you." She turned towards the comm console.
"D'Argo, Chiana, you'll excuse us if we do not communicate with
you until we get there."
soft laughter floated through the ship. *"Yeah. We'll excuse you,
Aeryn. Fly safe, all of you."*
and shut down the comm system. John watched as she programmed in
their coordinates; for a moment he considered whether or not Braca
would keep his word then realized that the Captain had finally gotten
what he'd wanted. His command.
over, his hand lingering over Aeryn's gun belt. She turned to him,
smiling. It was the smile of a kid, joyful without reservation.
It lit up her whole face. *The radiant Aeryn Sun*, his heart whispered.
"What are you
doing, Crichton?" Her voice was low and not a little seductive.
He smiled in return.
plenty of time for that," he whispered into her ear. "Just going
to tell a story, Aeryn. Thought I could use a couple of props."
He pulled the two patches from her gun belt and kissed her fully
on the mouth. "You sail the ship, Captain. I'll provide the movie."
the movies," she muttered but the smile was still on her face; he
had the feeling it would never disappear again.
towards his daughters and sat between them. He held the patches
out in front of him, studying the red, white and blue that had once
meant so much to him. His father had been an astronaut, an American
icon. *Every man is his own kind of heroŠ* Jack's words came back
to him and John was surprised at the tears he felt springing to
"What do those
mean?" A'lya said finally. She reached out and took the flag from
my homeworld," he began. "Earth. The United States of America. My
father was a hero there. My dadŠhe would be very proud of the both
of you." He handed the other patch to Melanie then put his arms
around his daughters, pulling them close. "Very proud of how brave
you are, how strong, how beautifulŠ" He cleared his throat, fighting
back the tide of emotion that was washing over him.
"I was an astronaut
on Earth," he began. *One day, when we have all the time in the
world, I'll explain it allŠ*
to John's voice as it filled the ship. She remembered parts of the
story that she'd heard before and those she had lived; strained
to hear those she had always wondered about. Sometimes her mind
drifted to her own story, to the memory of her mother falling, finally
freed from her anger and hurt‹*You live for me*‹imaginings of her
father, thoughts of the other Crichton and the way he had unlocked
her heart. But it all came back to the man whose voice rose and
fell behind her as he told the stories of their pasts to their daughters.
She still remembered
lying on the floor of a Peacekeeper transport, battered, adrift,
bereft of all that she had loved. But the pain was gone, and with
it the hatred. She was beyond hope. It was all she had left. It
was all she needed.
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