Rating: PG-13


Rating: PG-13 - at least. There's a lot of John-whumping in this one, as always. Might not be up to everybody's liking, but it wasn't written for everybody. It was written for Kaz and I know she likes this sort of thing. :D

Note: This is AU if ever there was an AU. D'Argo is alive, Zhaan is dead. There is no baby, but John has lost the wormhole tech. There is no Noranti and Stark is not featured in this story. No Jool either, by the way.

Dedication: I know this has been a long time coming, Kaz, but here you go. :D I could have gone on and on and on with this story, but since I wanted you to read it before we both grow too old to see … *g* Anyway, I hope you enjoy it.

Disclaimer: Not mine. I'm just playing. I'll put'em back when I'm done.

If landing his behind in the UTs had done anything good for him, then it would be that he was a lot fitter than he'd ever been before. That was generally what running away from people, who wanted to hurt him, did, after all.

He skittered around a corner and slammed into the opposite wall of the narrow alley. The sting in his shoulder was barely noticeable over the rush of adrenaline blasting through his veins. A pulse pistol blast hit the plaster just over his head, forcing him to duck a little when he pushed off the wall and raced on as fast as his legs could carry him. Outrunning Peacekeepers was doable, but very hard work. They generally had more stamina then Humans, which left him at a slight disadvantage. On the other hand, they were not as organized as some people he had known and that slowed them down and gave him a leg up on this chase.

The consensus these days was that Peacekeepers in general didn't give a crap about him. But Scorpius wanted him bad and his troops were the ones John was currently running from. He wound his way through alleys that became increasingly narrower, running left when he would have chosen right, ducking through archways and into people's courtyards, running through flocks of unidentifiable critters, anything to mask what direction he was going in. Not that it mattered. Those bastards were hot on his heels and he was running out of juice. It wouldn't take long before this chase was over and he knew he didn't stand a snowball's chance in hell of getting out of this predicament right now.

This world was another commerce planet - one Aeryn had sworn was off the beaten track - and they had been able to spend almost a full day without getting into trouble. And then they had split up. Aeryn had returned to the pod while John had decided to take a closer look at the market place. Bad move. He had barely set foot in the large square that held the market place before he was spotted. And that was over an hour ago. There was a ban against off-world electronics apart from the local ones, which meant that the com-badge bouncing around on his chest had no immediate effect. He couldn't call Aeryn for help, in other words, and the further he ran, the further away from the pod he got.

Panting, his legs burning, his chest heaving, he threw himself around another corner, but instead of another wall to propel him forward, he ran face first into some sort of obstruction. The obstruction turned out to be a statue on a pedestal, which obviously wasn't built to take that kind of abuse. The statue toppled off the pedestal and broke into several pieces.

John barely noticed it, put pushed away from the pedestal and dashed across the smallish square, heading for the furthest alley. But he didn't get that far. A blast ripped up the dusty ground in front of his feet, bringing him to a staggering halt. Stunned that the Peacekeepers had managed to get ahead of him, he focused on the shooter and realized that this guy wasn't a Peacekeeper. Although there was no doubt about the guy's official status, the uniform was not Peacekeeper garb. Nervous energy jittered through him at the thought of being delayed by this guy and he subconsciously reached for one pulse pistol.

"I wouldn't do that if I were you, Peacekeeper," the guy said. "We've got you covered."

The 'we' part of that was what made him raise his hands in surrender, because he became aware that this guy wasn't alone. One he could have taken on, but more than one diminished his odds considerably and he really needed to get going. "I'm not a Peacekeeper," he said as calmly as he could.

"Save it for the Sovereign," a voice said behind him. These guys didn't play fair, as it turned out. They did not give him a chance to say anything else. Before he knew what hit him, he was face down on the dusty ground, having his arms forcefully yanked behind his back. They cuffed him, then hauled him back to his feet while one of them disarmed him. Then they ushered him toward the mouth of the alley he had been heading towards. He sent a quick glance back over one shoulder and witnessed the untimely arrival of the Peacekeepers. Curiously enough, the platoon remained where they were rather than rush in and try to take custody of him.


The palace looming on the other side of the town from the landing pads had seemed unreal somehow; huge, but unreal. Now that he saw it up close, he understood why. The whole building looked like it had been carved from a single big rock. Towers wound their way to the blue sky overhead, covered in intricate designs that gave them an organic feel. The white stone shot through with dark veins reminded him of marble and it even had that shiny look to it that polished marble could have.

The palace guards - he had determined they had to be that at least - ushered him forward, none of them caring what he might have to say. He had tried a few times to convince them that he was not a Peacekeeper, but they didn't seem to be listening.

Once inside the palace walls, John kept his trap shut, hoping that someone higher up the ladder might be more inclined to give him the time of day. Why he had been arrested in the first place was beyond him, and none of his captors were willing to share that information with him.

They ushered him into a large, vaulted room with a dais in the middle that held a large stone seat. He figured it was some sort of throne room, but whoever occupied the throne normally was absent. Off to the right, a group of people were involved in a hefty discussion. The design of the throne room itself did not carry sound very well, because although he could hear the hum of the voices, he couldn't make out any words.

The guards ushered him toward the group and that caught the attention of one man, an elderly one with white hair and a beard to match. He raised his hands, stopping the others in the group, and stepped forward. "What is this?" he asked, his cold gaze raking over John like he was inspecting a particularly vile bug.

John opened his mouth, but was immediately slapped over the back of the head. "Ow," he snapped and sent a glare back at the guard who had shot at him earlier.

"Prisoners will speak only when spoken to," the man said sternly, then turned his attention to the older man. "My Lord Chancellor," he said and bowed. "This Peacekeeper has destroyed the statue in Liberty Square."

Statue? John blinked. That was what this was about? "That was an accident," he blurted out, which earned him another hard slap over the back of the head. "Stop that," he snapped at the guard.

Apparently talking back to these guys wasn't in his best interest right now. The guard pulled out a handheld device of some sort and jammed it against John's shoulder. His knees went out beneath him and he dropped down hard on them. That bastard had just tazered him.

"Begging your pardon, my Lord Chancellor," the guard said to White Beard.

The Lord Chancellor eyed John with something that bordered on disgust and waved a dismissive hand. "The usual punishment will suffice," he said. "Peacekeepers and their destructive ways are not welcome here," he added and turned his back on the scene.

The guards hauled John back to his feet and dragged him out of the throne room. He had a bit of trouble keep up because his legs had gone rubbery from the jolt he'd been given. "Have you people ever heard of a fair trial?" he snarled and even his voice was a little jittery.

The guard with the tazer gave him a dark look. "You will be quiet, Peacekeeper," he countered.

"I'm not a frigging Peacekeeper," John insisted. At this point he was pretty concerned about where this was going. Surely they wouldn't execute him for breaking a damned statue, would they?

They dragged him into the bowls of the palace and he was once again reminded of the similarities between Sebaceans and Humans. This was obviously the prison level. The guard with the tazer opened one of the cast-iron gates, which led into a smallish room that contained absolutely nothing. Before John could make a fuss, they again floored him and one of the other guards wrapped something around his neck. A metallic click heralded the sealing of his fate, it would seem. Someone removed the cuffs before they left the cell, closing the door behind them.

For a moment he just lay there, cheek pressed against the cold, hard stone of the floor, while he took that moment to gather his thoughts, and then he pushed up on his hands and knees and climbed back to his feet. "Every frigging place I go," he growled and sent a long look around the room, inspecting solid stone walls, arches carved into the walls facing the corridor beyond, and the one cast-iron barred door separating him from freedom. "I have got to stop drawing attention to myself like this," he muttered and grimaced. The collar they had slapped him with chafed slightly, drawing his attention to whatever it was supposed to be. He reached up with both hands to figure out what it was for, but the second his fingers connected with the metal band, he knew. The electric burst that slammed through him stopped his breath and turned his limbs to goo. It didn't last long enough to bring him down, but he staggered sideways into the wall, all his nerve endings tingling.

Okay, so these fine people were very much in favor of electricity as a punishment. It took him a moment to regain any semblance of breath and after that a few minutes more before he was able to push away from the support of the wall. Slightly dizzy, he bent forward and grabbed his knees, eyes closed. "I am not setting foot on another planet for a few years to come," he promised himself, his voice rusty. Then he straightened up slowly, feeling the ache in his muscles that the jolt had left behind. He reminded himself not to touch the damned collar again before turning his attention to the iron bars of the door. "Gotta clear this up somehow," he muttered and walked somewhat unsteadily over to the door. "Hey!" he called. "Can anyone hear me?"

There was no reply from the corridor beyond.

He stepped closer to the bars, trying to see through them with little luck. Instinctively, he reached for the iron bars, intent on grabbing a hold of them, which turned out to be the next bad move in a long line of bad moves, because the bars were also electrified, but the current running through the door had a lot more kick to it than the collar or the tazer.

Fortunately his response to the current was not to clamp his hands around the bars, but rather to release them. The slap that he got from the door blasted him backward into the opposite wall. He slid down onto the floor, the instant burn in his hands deeply unpleasant while the rest of him seemed to have gone numb in one stroke. Once more he struggled to start breathing again and his vision actually managed to narrow into a pinpoint before he got his lungs going again. And breathing was not a pleasant thing to do right now. He felt scorched on the inside, his throat sore and scratchy. His hands were shaking badly when he raised them up to inspect his palms, which were now an angry red. "Don't touch the door," he muttered unsteadily and focused blearily on it. "Check."


How long he had spent in the confines of his prison cell was something he could only guess at. Since there were no windows, his guess was wild and he didn't even attempt to pinpoint any time frame. It had been long enough for him to recover marginally from all the shock's he'd been given since his arrival in this blasted palace. He was still a little sore and his palms were still burning, but he wasn't incapacitated in any way.

Since there was nothing to do, he sat where he had slid down the wall, knees pulled up, while he fiddled with a thread he had pulled off his jacket. It was only at the sound of footsteps coming along the corridor that he looked up. He got to his feet, instinctively shoving the thread into his pocket, and stepped forward to meet whoever was coming face on and hoped he would get a chance to tell his version of the events that had led to his arrest.

The man who eventually stopped outside the cell door made him a little weary. He was about a head taller than John and seemed twice as broad, but there was not an ounce of fat on that guy. He was pure muscle and he didn't exactly look affable. He was dressed in the same charcoal gray pants as the rest of the guards he had met, but that was where the comparison ended. The black tank top he wore was stretched to the breaking point over his well-toned chest. He had copper cuffs around both wrists and intricate tattoos on both shoulders. His hair was short and pitch black, his eyes a peculiar light grey bordering on white. He had a scar going from the corner of his right eye to the corner of his mouth, a mouth which at this moment was displaying a lopsided smirk.

Something told John that he was about to get beaten into a pulp by this guy and he pulled back a step when the cell door swung open and the gorilla stepped inside, the smirk now turning into a grin, while the look in his eyes was almost feral.

"Look, there's been a misunderstanding here," John tried, raising both hands in what he hoped was a calming manner. "I'm not a Peacekeeper. And the thing with the statue ... that was an accident. I was ..."

His explanation was cut short when the gorilla pressed his left thumb against the inside of the right cuff. Obviously, the cuff contained a remote of some sort, because the collar around John's neck sparked to life. He slammed back against the wall, desperately wanting to reach for the collar to pull it away from his neck, but he couldn't control his hands. All he managed was a grunt on the exhale of the air he had in his lungs. His knees had locked, every muscle in his body was tensed to the breaking point, and he couldn't even give vent to the pain cruising through is system right now.

And then it stopped. The intensity of the pain along with the severe strain on every single muscle in his body sent him crashing to the floor. He only barely managed to brace himself on half numb, half tingling hands. In part the sensation of being electrocuted like that was similar to that damned chair that Scorpy loved so much.

He couldn't help gagging because yet again he couldn't draw a decent breath. When air finally rushed in, it was crystal clear and ice cold. He sucked in a lung full, then slowly raised his head and gave the big guy a baleful look; a look that quickly turned to concern, because the big guy had his thumb hovering over the cuff again. "No, wait," he rasped, but his plea fell on deaf ears.

Apparently, the current in that damned collar could be adjusted, because the big guy alternated between rendering him completely immobile and turning it down just enough that John still had enough control to give vent to the pain.

When he was a jittering mess unable to get off the floor if his life had depended on it, the big guy finally laid off and left the cell again. With his heart racing painfully in his chest and his head about to split open while any move he wanted to make was just too painful, he just lay there, breathing in short, shallow gasps, his thoughts muddled. It didn't take too long after that before darkness descended on him.


Time passed and intermittently one of the guards - mostly the big guy, though - would drop by to torture the crap out of him before disappearing again. He was beginning to have severe issues, ticks that wouldn't go away, painful heart flickers, shaking hands and difficulty to keep his mind on one track for more than a few minutes at a time and he was starting to fear that this may mean permanent damage.

He had lost track of how many times they had pulled him through the wringer, but assumed he had been in this hellhole for at least four days. And then the door opened again. His immediate response to this was to raise one hand, palm out and lowering his head. Nothing he said made any difference and he knew that any submissive actions on his part where ignored, but he still couldn't stop himself.

The big guy wasn't alone this time around and when the two accompanying guards grabbed him, he was sure they would add insult to injury and beat the crap out of him. All they did, though, was floor him and cuff his hands behind his back before pulling him back to his feet. With the amount of electrocution he had gone through, he was not even going to pretend that he could walk two steps without his knees folding up under him and he made that abundantly clear to his captors by not even making the effort of either standing or walking. They didn't seem to care, though. The two newcomers each grabbed an arm and they dragged him with them.

It took him a moment to realize where he was when they arrived. He had a bit of trouble focusing his eyes on occasion and right now was one of those occasions. But when they dropped him and he landed painfully hard on his knees, he knew he was back in the throne room.

Weakened as he was, he couldn't keep his head up or his eyes focused and so stared blankly down at the marble floor, swaying lightly in his effort to at least remain on his knees.

The footfalls of someone approaching made him squint in an attempt to focus his eyes and then he raised his head. What he saw was a dress. It was made of some sort of glittering blue fabric and it hugged its wearing tightly. He ran his eyes over the shapely legs up to a voluptuous chest and a pair of ice-blue eyes looking down at him. A halo of blonde hair framed a heart-shaped face with slightly pouty lips and a smallish nose. Her features were downright perfect and if it hadn't been for the chill in her eyes, she would have looked beautiful.

"So, this is the Peacekeeper that destroyed my statute?" she asked and glanced sideways at White Beard.

"It is, Sovereign," the old guy agreed.

"He does not seem capable of such a feat," she said thoughtfully and returned her icy stare to John.

"'m not a Peacekeeper," John muttered, having to force his mouth to obey the otherwise simple command of talking.

"The guards have vented their frustrations on him, I'm afraid," White Beard said and John scoffed mentally at that.

Apparently, this did not please the Sovereign, but John could no longer keep his head up and so missed whatever look her slight annoyance might turn into. To his immediate surprise, she grabbed his chin and raised his head again. "Why would you do that, Peacekeeper?" she asked.

"'m not a Peacekeeper," he repeated a little more forcefully.

"Excuse me?" This seemed to surprise her and she glanced at White Beard. "He says he's not a Peacekeeper. Were you aware of that?"

"We have had Peacekeepers in our custody before, claiming not to be to save themselves from punishment," White Beard countered evenly.

The Sovereign returned her attention to John, eyeing him for a moment. "What is your name?" she asked. "Your rank? Which regiment do you hail from?"

"'m not a Peacekeeper," he muttered. Gravity was dragging him down. He was struggling to remain on his knees.

"Do a scan on him. I want to know if he's a carrier born Sebacean or not," the Sovereign said, released his chin and took a step back.

The loss of the vague support her hand had provided kicked him in the teeth and he keeled over, hitting the floor face first since he had no free hands to brace himself with.

"And, for frell's sake, leave him alone until we find out who he is," he heard her say before the world faded out again.


He woke up because he was shocked into awareness by the collar. With a halfhearted yelp, he rolled over on his side, barely managing to stop himself from touching the offensive device. The shock had only lasted a split second, though, and he realized he probably had touched it somehow, thereby setting it off.

He was back in his cell, lying on the chilly stone floor. With a groan, he rolled over on his back and blinked blearily up at the ceiling. It was vaulted like in the throne room, just on a much smaller scale. As prison cells went, this wasn't the worst he had seen. If there had been some furniture, it would have the potential of being downright cozy. But since it was a place of suffering, he wasn't inclined to even think of this cell as adequate.

Raising his right hand up where he could see it, he eyed his shivering fingers while trying to determine what the Sovereign would do once she realized that not only wasn't he a Peacekeeper, he wasn't even Sebacean. Had she heard about him? It was hard to say, but at least the guards were under order not to hurt him anymore. That had to count for something and maybe he would be able to regain some of his composure before he was dragged back to see her again.

"Gotta keep m' trap shut," he muttered under his breath and let his hand drop onto the floor again. Moving was tough when his muscles felt fried. It wasn't as bad as the Chair had been, even though it was right up there alongside that experience.

He considered briefly to move, but decided not to bother. Instead, he closed his eyes and drifted into an uneasy sleep.


The Sovereign was a ruler by succession. Having been born into her inherited position, she had been brought up to be the leader of her people and for the majority, her people seemed content with her rule; as long as said rule kept the Peacekeepers away from their home worlds.

The Lord Chancellor cleared his throat, drawing her attention away from the stacks of flimsies that had piled up while she had been away for a weeken. There really wasn't anyone to take her place when the rare occasion arose where she needed a little breathing time away from the officiousness of her station. She eyed the man, noting again the fatigue on his old face. "Yes?"

"We appear to have visitors," the Lord Chancellor said and glanced off toward the main entrance.

The Sovereign turned her attention toward the young and inexperienced guard striding across the throne room. That he was inexperienced was very evident in his nervousness. He bowed when he stopped at the appropriate distance from her. "Sovereign," he said, his voice jittery.

"What news do you bring me?" she asked, addressing him directly. Under her father's reign, the Sovereign had spoken only to his closest advisers and any questions from guards fell on deaf ears if the Lord Chancellor was not around. She had chosen to circumvent that rule and was known to speak directly to her underlings, a fact that made them all a little nervous still.

"A Peacekeeper begs an audience," the guard said, nervously keeping his eyes on the floor in front of his feet.

"A Peacekeeper?" she asked and glanced at the Lord Chancellor, whose expression had grown rather cold. "Here?"

"Yes, Sovereign. He is waiting outside," the guard confirmed.

She considered the edacity it took for any Peacekeeper to be at her door without an invitation, but then nodded. "Send him in," she said, which caused the Lord Chancellor to give her a baffled look.

The guard turned and rushed back out. Moments later, a black-clad individual strode in, followed by an officious looking Peacekeeper captain. The black-clad individual taxed her understanding, because that creature was by no means Sebacean and therefore should not call itself a Peacekeeper.

He bowed lightly, a not at all appropriate greeting for her status, and then smiled, his black lips stretching. "Sovereign," he said in a tone that indicated they were old friends and that he could therefore take such liberties as that tone of voice.

"You are not Sebacean," she countered, eying him with the rapt curiosity of a would-be scientist.

"Half," he countered evenly. "I am Scorpius."

Narrowing her eyes at this half-breed, she wondered what sway he held over Peacekeeper High Command to be allowed any kind of station within Peacekeeper ranks. "But of course you are," she countered, recalling vague rumors of this being. She had never been truly aware of his origins since Peacekeeper affairs normally did not interest her in the slightest. Finding him on her doorstep now, she was unsure of what to make of him and decided to wait and see rather than jump to conclusions. "And what brings you here to my little part of the Uncharted Territories?"

His expression dissolved into something akin to regret. "We are in pursuit of an escaped convict," he explained, his tone slightly suffering now. "Unfortunately, said convict has chosen to make landfall on your world and we saw no other option but to pursue him."

The Lord Chancellor gave her a look she could easily interpret, but for now chose to ignore. "And what makes you think that this convict is still on this world?" she asked Scorpius.

"One of my platoons witnessed his arrest by your guards, Sovereign," he said and tried that smile again.

The Sovereign assumed that he thought he was charming. If she had been in less control of her emotional spectrum, she would have shuddered at this mimicry of a smile. "Ah, so you assume this convict is now in my custody," she stated, to which he merely nodded. She noted the paleness and obvious concern in his companion, who was Sebacean and Peacekeeper to the core in her opinion. "And you expect what?"

Scorpius' expression tensed a little. It was obvious that he was beginning to understand his companion's nervousness. "Since this convict has destroyed one of your precious statues, we are of course more than willing to reimburse you for the loss when we take custody of him."

She pretended to think it over by drawing her brows down into a frown and briefly covering her lips with her fingers. "Should we not first establish if this latest prisoner is actually the male you are seeking?" she asked.

"But of course," Scorpius agreed, his tone bordering on the benevolent.

The Sovereign glanced at her honor guard. "Bring the prisoner," she said.


Since the guards now left John alone, he had recovered to a point where he felt fairly together, even though the solitude and lack of fresh air was taking its toll on his reserves.

There was nothing for him to do but sit around and stare into space. He had no idea how much time had passed since his incarceration, but he assumed it had been at least a week by now, if not more.

Currently, he was sitting on the floor, back against the wall, knees pulled up, while he twirled that piece of thread he had pulled off his jacket between his fingers. When he heard approaching footsteps, he looked up, losing interest in the thread. He rose to his feet and briefly considered an escape attempt when a single guard turned up outside the door, but when he was joined by others, he suffocated that idea, turned his back and offered his wrists for binding. Playing along with this charade would at least insure that they did not activate the collar. He'd had enough of being electrocuted to last him a lifetime.

The guards approached him carefully and one of them handcuffed him. Nobody spoke and he had already learned that he would not get anything out of asking questions; nothing apart from a zap from the collar, that was.

They took him back toward the throne room and John assumed the Sovereign had finally found out that he wasn't a Peacekeeper and therefore hopefully not a threat. But when he stepped through the doors to the throne room - a side-entrance that was obviously only meant for prisoners - he stopped short, causing the guard walking behind him to plow into him.

"Keep moving," the man snarled and shoved him forward.

If he hadn't been nervous before, he was so tenfold now. Scorpius and Braca were waiting for him and he could literally feel his heart drop. Apparently, the Sovereign had made a deal with Scorpy, which would mean nothing but bad things for John.

The guards had to force him forward. He was through playing nice if they were going to hand him over to Scorpy just like that, and he wasn't going to make it easy on them.

"Is this the convict you were speaking of?" the Sovereign asked Scorpius.

Scorpius met John's eyes and that vicious little smile spread over his black lips. "Oh yes," he almost cooed, covered the distance to John and stopped right in front of him. He slipped a hand behind John's neck, raising goose bumps on his skin. "There you are, John," Scorpius said, his tone heavy with joy.

Desperate to be away from that cadaverous son of a bitch, John tried to pull back, but Scorpius' grip on his neck was unrelenting.

"You have given us quite a chase," the half-breed said, then shifted his attention to the impassive-looking Sovereign. "We will take this one off your hands and reimburse you for the destruction of that statue. Name your price."

John dared a glance at the woman, finding that her expression was bland, her eyes locked on Scorpius. "That statue is irreplaceable," she finally said and made a small insignificant move with one hand, which obviously meant something to her guards. They grabbed John and hauled him away from Scorpius and two of them stepped between John and his nemesis. "Besides, you are in violation of our treaty with Peacekeeper High Command, Scorpius."

In John's opinion this could not end well for the Sovereign. There was most likely a command carrier somewhere in the area, and if that was the case, this planet could be laid waste in no time at all.

"I am aware of the treaty...," Scorpius began, but the Sovereign cut him off.

"And yet here you are, trespassing in my system, bringing your troops to my world, upsetting the balance among my people with your mere presence," she said, her tone icy. "The treaty clearly states that no Peacekeeper is allowed in this system without an express invitation from me and me alone. I do not recall having issued such an invitation to you or your troops."

"To be fair, he trespassed here first. We were merely chasing him," Scorpius countered, attempting to defend himself, which confused John because Scorpy didn't sound altogether sure of himself right now.

"I do not consider his presence here a trespass. He is not a Peacekeeper," the Sovereign said, her tone now hard as rock. "Nor, would it seem, is he even Sebacean, although my scientists are hard pressed to determine what exactly he is."

Scorpius spread his arms in surrender. "I offer you my deepest apologies for having violated the treaty. This man is highly dangerous and very important to our research. Please let us relieve you of his presence so you can go back to reassuring your people that all is well," he suggested almost timidly.

The Sovereign eyed him for a moment, then took a step forward, which activated her guards into tightening the half circle around her. "No," she said simply and raised her chin a little. "You and your troops have one arn to vacate this system. If you are not gone when that arn is up, we will consider your presence here an official violation of the treaty. That means war, Scorpius. A war the Peacekeepers cannot win."

John stared at her in confusion. There was no doubt that she believed what she said and it made him wonder if such a thing was actually possible. He glanced nervously at Scorpius, only to realize that Scorpius evidently believed it too, because the half-breed now looked decidedly nervous. "But, Sovereign ..." he tried, only to be cut off again.

"ARE YOU HARD OF HEARING?" the Sovereign roared. Her voice was so strong that it reverberated through the throne room, throwing echoes at them from all sides. "LEAVE! NOW!"

Braca pawed at Scorpius' arm, his expression full of fear now. "We must leave," he hissed. "Our presence here alone is a violation."

Scorpius made a dismissive gesture, then half-bowed to the Sovereign, gave John a brief glance, then turned around and strode out with Braca hot on his heels.

And all John could do was stand there and watch them leave. He couldn't believe that he'd been saved in the nick of time. But just because the Sovereign had refused to hand him over to Scorpius didn't mean that he was free to go, obviously. And with that sudden furry she had displayed, he wasn't so sure she was mentally stable.

For a moment, the entire hall was quiet as the grave. The Sovereign stood stock still, her gaze locked on the exit Scorpius had taken, her expression unreadable. But then she turned her attention to John and he got a very bad feeling since her expression didn't change at all. "You are neither Peacekeeper nor Sebacean," she said, her voice calm and measured. "What are you?"

John didn't really know how to respond other than with the truth. "Human," he said, well aware that his own voice was a tad timid.

Her eyes narrowed. "Human?" she asked, to which he nodded curtly. "And where do Humans hail from?"

It was the interest that others showed in his home world that always made him a tad weary. "Earth," he replied.

"There are some essential ingredients missing from your blood. Ingredients that assure a Sebacean's survival. Also, I am told, there are some enzymes present that my scientists cannot make sense of. They say it seems almost possible that you are not susceptible to heat fluctuations. Is that so? Can you tolerate intense heat?"

John really wanted to steer her away from this topic, but had no idea how. "To a degree," he agreed.

"So, your people do not suffer from heat delirium then? They do not experience the living death?" she pressed on and took a step toward him.

"We get heat stroke, but it's usually reversible," he countered. "And no, no living death."

The Sovereign considered his words for a moment, then sighed. "Take him to the scientists. They'll want to study him further," she said and waved a dismissive hand at him.

The guards grabbed him, but he managed to shrug them off at first. "Wait. Please."

She had started to turn away, but stopped at his plea and looked back at him.

"I have ... a mate. Sebacean. I'll be happy to tell you or your scientists anything I can that might be of use, but I am not a guinea pig. I will not be treated like this." He tried to lend his voice some anger, but in his own ears he sounded feeble, scared, which he was.

She stared at him for a moment, then shook her head lightly and waved at the guards. "Take him away," she repeated, turned her back and walked away.

The guards grabbed him again and again he shouldered his way out of their grip, which of course landed him in a world of hurt when one of them activated the collar.


Eight solardays earlier

With everything loaded on the pod, all Aeryn could do was sit down on a crate near it and wait. John's continuous interest in strange worlds sometimes baffled her. Sometimes it also worried her, but this system was off limits to Peacekeepers, which in and off itself should make them safe. So, today, she was not worried. She was merely bored.

After a while, the boredom changed to annoyance. She glanced up at the sky, noting the position of the sun, then rose and started pacing. The sun crept further toward the horizon and John's continued absence made her begin to worry. The fact that their com-badges didn't work made things a little tenser than they had to be, too.

Unsure of what to do, she decided to look up the market first, to see if he had gotten himself in trouble there or was lost in the merchandise or something like that. With John, she could never know what he might get involved in. "Drannit," she muttered, sealed the pod and strode back into the town in search of her wayward Human.

After trailing through the market place a few times, she figured he was either back at the pod by now or had gone elsewhere. At this point in time, she was still annoyed, although the first faint stirrings of worry were rising in her.

The return to the pod did nothing. There was no sign of him anywhere and by that time, the sun had reached the horizon. Not sure where to start, she returned to the market place again and by the time she got there, it was dark and the square was now empty apart from a few stragglers still packing up their stands.

Asking anyone if they had seen him would be complicated, because he didn't exactly look special. "Frell," she muttered, looking around while slowly turning in a circle.

"Lost something?"

That grating old voice startled her and she turned abruptly around to face the old female standing there, leaning on a cane. "As a matter of fact, yes," Aeryn agreed. "My ... mate," she added. Technically they weren't mated, but that was beside the point. "He went to this market earlier and never came back."

"Must have gotten lost then, eh?" the old woman said, cackled and hoppled off.

Aeryn frowned. It was possible. Although he had improved considerably in later cycles, he had even gotten lost on Moya in the beginning. Frell, it had taken him precious time to learn how to open doors. The option that he was lost, wandering around this town in search of a way back to the landing pads was very much a possibility.

Over the next two solardays, Aeryn trailed through this quaint little town over and over again, searching methodically for John and finding nothing. She asked a few shop owners, but they shrugged and went about their business. Unsure of how to handle this situation, she returned to Moya to fill in Pilot, D'Argo and Chiana, then returned to the surface to search some more.

It was completely by chance that she came across a square that had no statue - something she only reflected on because a few males were standing around, discussing if the broken statue was salvageable and if not, what else they could place there. One of the men - he looked to be a soldier of some sort - huffed with annoyance. "Frelling offworlders," he stated in a morose tone of voice. "They have no respect for other people's property."

"Agreed," one of the workers said. "Good thing he wasn't a Peacekeeper, though, wasn't it?"

Aeryn frowned and trailed closer. The soldier noticed her and eyed her up and down. "Hear something good?" he asked, his tone stand-offish.

"An offworlder destroyed this statue?" she asked and eyed the pedestal with more interest than she felt.

The soldier considered her for a microt, then shrugged. "Yes. The Sovereign is not pleased," he agreed. "Why so curious?"

Aeryn grimaced and took a step back. "Just concerned for our fair city," she said, doing her best to look disgusted. "Offworlders should stay off world," she added, gave the soldier a nod and started walking again. She only relaxed when she was out of sight and none of them had tried to stop her. "Frell it, John," she muttered under her breath.

Four days of futile searching and now this? That drannit had gotten himself arrested for destroying city property? While she trailed in the direction of the palace, she considered the situation. John was a lot of things, but clumsy was usually not one of them. If he had destroyed a statue, there was a good reason for it. But Aeryn was very much aware that she could not just waltz into the palace and demand to have him back. She would need to find out what the protocol was for having a prisoner released from a sentence for that specific offence.

Lost in contemplation, she rounded a corner and nearly ran into someone. Stopping dead, she stared in pure surprise at Scorpius. "What the frell?" she snapped, took a hurried step back, ripped her pulse pistol out and aimed it at his head.

The platoon of Peacekeepers following behind him had come to a stop too and every single one of them pulled their weapons on her as well, Braca included.

Scorpius stared at her for a microt, then raised a hand. "Put away your weapons," he ordered and the soldiers complied immediately. "Officer Sun. What a surprise," he then said.

Aeryn stared at him, not sure how to interpret his reaction right now. "Likewise," she countered and eased out of her defensive stance, but did not lower her weapon. "I thought Peacekeepers were banned from this system," she added.

The look that crossed the half-breed's face revealed anger and disappointment. "Yes," he agreed. "And we have been ordered off world within the arn."

"Well, you'd better hurry then," Aeryn said.

"I assume you are looking for John," Scorpius countered evenly. "He appears to be imprisoned for some minor offence."

"I know," Aeryn lied. Technically she hadn't known, but Scorpius had just confirmed her suspicion.

"Are you going to bargain for his release?" Scorpius took a cautious step closer, obviously testing her boundaries.

"What the frell do you care what I do?" she countered standoffishly.

"For some time now, I have attempted to make contact with John," Scorpius said and shifted another step closer.

Aeryn raised her pistol a little. "Stay back," she warned him and took a step back to widen the distance again.

The half-breed raised both hands. "I mean no harm," he said.

"You have attempted to make contact, you say?" she prompted and couldn't help a snide grin. "Seems to me that you're trying very hard to capture him. After what you've done to him, Scorpius, you cannot blame the man for running when he sees you coming."

"It is unfortunate that he does not trust me," Scorpius lamented. "But it is very important that I speak with him, and his continued evasion makes it very difficult for me to relay this to him."

"You could just send him a message," Aeryn countered tersely. "What the frell do you want with him now? The majority of the Peacekeepers couldn't care less about what he does, as long as he stays out of their business. And he has every intention of doing that. You are the only one hunting him now."

"I am not 'hunting' him," Scorpius said, his tone a tad irritated now. "I merely wish to speak with him."

"Fine. I'll let him know once I get him released," Aeryn said, still aiming her pistol at him.

"And therein lies the problem, Officer Sun," Scorpius said a little sadly. "I do know a little more about the Sovereign than you might. And I can assure you that she is not going to give John up willingly."

The fact that Scorpius might have information that could help her made her waver. But trusting the half-breed was not high on her to-do list. "What possible interest could she have in him?"

"The same that everybody else seems to have. He is like a Sebacean, but not. He has attributes that Sebaceans could use," Scorpius said, his tone conspiratorial now. "Perhaps we should sit down somewhere and talk about it?"

"And perhaps not," Aeryn countered. "I believe you have been given an ultimatum? It might be in your best interest to keep that. If I remember correctly, the treaty with this system is very much in the Sovereign's favor."

The look in Scorpius' eyes darkened. "That is, regretfully, true." He considered something for a moment. "We shall remain just outside the borders of this system. If you feel you need help in having John released, we will be standing by."

"Thank you for offering," Aeryn said with a sneer. "I think I can handle it."

Scorpius gave her a nod, then proceeded onward, followed by Braca and his platoon of Peacekeepers.

For a long moment, Aeryn remained where she was, pistol drawn, and waited for them to come back to arrest her. When they didn't, she holstered her pulse pistol again and gave a passerby a nasty look when he eyed her suspiciously. Then she slumped back against the wall and considered this meeting. If Scorpius hadn't been lying, John could be in a worse fix than she had thought. She needed intel, and soon. Usually, bars were a good place to start, so instead of heading on toward the palace, she decided to check out the local establishments to find someone who might be willing to talk.


In the palace

No matter how much he fought them, he had no way of ignoring the paralyzing pain the collar bestowed on him. While the collar was active, he was pretty much out of commission. And when they finally turned it off again, he was in no position to fight back any more. The fatigue was only part of it, though. The rest was the fact that he was now strapped to a steel table in what looked like a lab.

He spent a few minutes gasping for breath after the collar turned off, but even though he was so worn out that he was one step away from passing out, he stayed wide awake and as alert as his present condition allowed for. Because not only was he strapped to a t-shaped table, arms stretched out to both sides, he was also butt naked. Fortunately, they had covered him with a sheet, but that did not downplay the embarrassment of being laid out like this in front of complete strangers.

His concerns about his own nakedness took a backseat to what exactly they had in mind, though, and it didn't take very long before that was the least of his concerns. The first thing they did was inject something into his jaw. Before he could even consider an outburst, he felt his jaw muscles tighten and realized he couldn't open his mouth. The second injection they administered was right into his larynx and that one hurt like a bitch. But what sounds he managed to make were garbled and after a moment, not even that came out. They had effectively gagged him and prevented him from opening his mouth and that seriously freaked him out. But he couldn't move. The ties that kept him in place were strategically placed around wrists, upper arms, ankles and upper thighs and one across his chest. He was effectively out of commission and they obviously wanted him to be awake to witness whatever they had in mind.

To say that he was terrified at this point would be the understatement of the year. He knew he would have been begging for their damned mercy if he could have by now and it both frustrated and scared him that he couldn't. All he could do was breath rapidly through his nose and hope he passed out before they did something unspeakable to him.

What really got under his skin was the fact that they ignored him and spoke about him like he would imagine human scientists would speak about a lab rat. There was no compassion, no concern about hurting him; just their work and what they hoped to gain from it.

At first, all they did was take blood samples and tissue samples. The latter was a tad painful because they cut a small piece of his skin off without sedating him, but that he could live with. They covered the cut with some sort of liquid that solidified and technically became a band aid, which made it obvious that they cared enough to make sure he did not get an infection.

One of the scientists - he had decided that was what they were ahead of doctors - picked up a gadget that was about the length of her lower arm and pressed one end of it against his stomach. She pressed down on the trigger at the top of it and he basically felt like she had driven a half inch steel rod through his guts. Without sound or the ability to move, his display of agony was pathetic at best, but that didn't mean it hurt any less.

How long these tests went on for was beyond him, but it felt like days. They kept coming back for more, kept drawing blood, kept taking samples. The only plus was that he was hooked up to what he figured was a nutrition drip, because he felt neither hunger nor thirst throughout this. What he did feel was the stinging pain of every incision, every injection, every cut and scarp and he was beginning to pray mentally. He was praying for Aeryn to find him, to figure out what had happened to him, because he knew she would be kicking ass and taking names to get to him. And D'Argo and Chiana would be equally ready to come to his rescue.

After this particular brand of torture had gone on for far too long, they left him alone for a while and he was beginning to hope that this was the end of this demeaning experience, but then they all filed into the lab again and by their actions alone he could tell that they were far from done.

"Technically, the samples we have already taken should give us enough to go on," the male said. They all wore surgical masks, obscuring their faces, but since this was the only man among them, John had already dubbed him Kevorkian in his mind. Kevorkian drew down a transparent section of the ceiling in the same shape as the table John was strapped to and activated it. It appeared to work like an x-ray, only it displayed a live feed of his internal organs.

All three of them stepped up to eye the readouts. "What's that?" one of the females asked, pointing at John's liver. "Is that a parapheral nerve?"

Kevorkian shook his head. "The location is wrong. It can't be," he said and his brow furrowed. "And this?" he asked in turn, pointing to John's kidneys. "What are those supposed to be? There are two of them. I wonder what their function is."

"Well, this at least we can identify. Heart, lungs," the second female said, waving indistinctly at his upper body. "Intestines. Stomach," she added. "As for the rest ... I wouldn't know."

Kevorkian sighed. "Well, that leaves only one option."

John swallowed convulsively. Was this the point where that freak decided to cut him open to find out what made him tick?

"We have to map their functions," one of the females agreed with a nod. "Will you do the honors?" she then asked the second female.

"Certainly," she agreed and glanced at Kevorkian. "Could you get the keevar-lines?"

Kevorkian left and the two women withdrew to the rear of the room to pick up something that looked like a rolled up length of metal plating. It wasn't very wide and was about fourteen inches long when they unrolled it. One of them pushed the sheet away a bit and together they plastered this metal sheet along the side of his body, reaching from armpit to hip. It was cold and made him hiss, but neither of them paid him any attention.

The length of metal stuck to his skin and, not knowing what it was for, he imagined the worst. Kevorkian stepped back into the room holding a long, narrow box, which they put down on a table at the rear. The female asked to do 'the honors' donned a pair of heavy-duty gloves, opened the box and withdrew what to John look liked a smallish metal plate with an about forty inch long hair attached to it. Only the hair was moving, writhing around like a snake.

She held on to the metal plate with one hand while holding onto the front end of the hair with the other and the tip of this 'hair' continuously tried to burrow through her glove into her hand. She guided it over to the metal sheet now stuck to his body and the 'hair' lost interest in her and instead attacked the plate, which appeared to have holes in it, because this thing, whatever the hell it was, stabbed through and dug into his armpit. And it generally felt like someone was inserting a long needle into his body; a needle that wiggled and penetrated things that were not meant to be penetrated, and no matter how he tried to squirm and twist, he couldn't move enough to get away from this violation, and it hurt. It burned and it upset everything it touched and they were far from done, because she went back for another one and another one, inserting them along the side of his body and letting these things wiggle through him and the sensation alone was pushing him to the brink. That it hurt on top of that made it that much harder to bear. That he was incapable of voicing his pain ... that one nearly broke him.


Aeryn spent a full day trying to get the information she needed and ended up with nothing. None of the good citizens she tried to talk to wanted to have anything to do with her the microt she mentioned the Sovereign. Angry at this failure, she decided to try the direct approach. In other words, she strode up the palace gates and demanded an audience with the Sovereign.

The guard eyed her questioningly, then shrugged and relayed the request to the palace itself. Within microts she was allowed in and she felt like shooting someone out of sheer aggression. She was aware, though, that she needed to keep a lid on her emotions right now.

By the time she was finally brought before the Sovereign, she had as good a grip on herself as she could have.

The Sovereign, busy with whatever Sovereigns did, looked up from a table strewn with flimsies, which covered much of the holo-display underneath. "You requested an audience?" she asked, her tone standoffish. "As you can see, I am rather busy. What can I do for you?"

Aeryn eyed the other woman, trying to gage her, but found it almost impossible to determine whether she was friend or foe. "My mate was arrested for accidentally damaging a statue," she said, cutting right to the bone.

Whatever had occupied the Sovereign seemed to take a backseat, because her attention was now fully on Aeryn. "Your mate?" she asked.

"Yes. If there would be any way I could reimburse you for the loss of this statue and have my mate back, I would be … grateful." Aeryn couldn't help wondering what she was getting herself into with an offer like that.

The Sovereign's expression was impossible to read. "That statue was a gift from a very dear friend of mine, long since passed away. A replacement would not be the same," she said. "I am afraid that your mate will have to serve out his time."

Most of all Aeryn wanted to lunge at the women, but refrained from showing any outward aggression. "And how long might that be?" she asked, making sure to keep her tone even and unemotional.

"However long I say it is," the Sovereign countered and lost interest again. She returned to her flimsies.

"Are we talking solardays, weekens, monans?" Aeryn pressed.

The Sovereign glanced at her. "At this point in time, it is impossible to say. It very much depends on his behavior," she said.

"May I see him?" Aeryn plowed on, hoping that she could at least reassure herself that he was not harmed.

The Sovereign picked up one of her flimsies and studied it. "No," she then said and gave Aeryn an annoyed look. "This audience is over."

The guards ushered Aeryn out of the throne room and she struggled to maintain a marginal grip on herself. Once outside the gates again, she came to a stop and stood there with her back to the palace. "Frell," she hissed, then strode on toward the landing pads. She needed intel on the palace, on where John might be held. But where could she come about something like that without raising suspicion and getting herself arrested?

She took the pod back to Moya and, seething, spent an arn just pacing around Command while forcefully ignoring her shipmates. Rygel was nowhere around, but Chiana and D'Argo both tried to reason with her with little luck.

"Perhaps we should just wait," D'Argo suggested.

"Fell that. You can't leave him in the hands of some frelled Sovereign. He's likely to say the wrong thing at the wrong time and get into even more trouble," Chiana countered angrily. "We need to find a way to break him out of there."

Aeryn stopped. "And how the frell do you suggest we do that? There are guards. And we are … no army," she growled and turned her attention to the holo-display, which showed the gentle hemisphere of the planet, other further-out worlds and, at the very edge, the command carrier. She stared at the display for a microt.

"I don't know," Chiana said, failing to notice what Aeryn was looking at.

But D'Argo had noticed. "You can't think of going to them for help, Aeryn," he said quietly.

Chiana glanced from one to the other, then noted the direction Aeryn was looking in. "Frell, no! He would never forgive you," she burst out.

"I have no other choice. If even half of what Scorpius hinted at is a reality, John is once again in over his head. And I am not standing by while they dissect him to find out what makes him tick," Aeryn said.

"You're tinked. Fahrbot. You can't …"

D'Argo stopped Chiana by clamping a hand over her mouth, his attention on Aeryn. "Scorpius will demand an outrageous price, Aeryn. You know that. He has been after John for cycles."

Aeryn smoothed both hands over her hair and closed her eyes for a moment. "I know," she finally said. "But what choice do I have?"

The Luxan sighed. "Yes," he muttered and released Chiana again. "What choice do you have?"


The smug smile on Scorpius' lips was almost enough to make Aeryn turn around and leave, but the thought of what that Sovereign might be doing to John made her stay where she was.

"Officer Sun," the half-breed said. "To what do I owe this pleasure?"

Braca and a few soldiers stood by, but none of them seemed overtly agitated or on guard.

"I think you know why I'm here," Aeryn countered. "You offered your help and, as much as it pains me, I seem to be out of options unless I choose to wait for the Sovereign to release John."

This made Scorpius frown. "You cannot consider that, Officer Sun. If my intelligence report is correct - and I have no reason to believe it is not - they are harming him considerably already. We need to free him. The sooner the better," he said.

It was the fact that Scorpius seemed to believe they were in this together that made her bristle. "I agree," she said curtly. "But from what I understand you are persona non grata in that system. How can you possibly help?" she demanded.

"We can offer you extensive intelligence on how to find John and how to get him out. Fortunately, this Sovereign seems to believe that her system is impenetrable and security is therefore rather lax," he said and waved a hand toward the innards of the command carrier. Aeryn was not inclined to accommodate him on that, though, and she shook her head and remained where she was.

"Bring me what I need and we can discuss this further," she said and wondered if he would go for it.

Scorpius eyed her closely and she couldn't help wondering what he actually saw when he looked at others. He had been able to tell by merely seeing John that he was not Sebacean. And he was good at catching lies too. "You do not trust me," he lamented quietly.

"No," she agreed. There was no sense in lying to him about it. Aeryn had always been in favor of the straight forward approach. "I do not. And if I had another option, even a remote one, I would take it. But unfortunately I believe, as you do, that John is in danger, and I want him out of there now. I do not want to wait for a possible release."

"A wise decision," Scorpius commended her. "Alright then. We will bring the information to you."

Aeryn nodded her agreement and remained where she was while one of Scorpius' advisors took off to retrieve the information needed.

"I suggest you go in alone, though. Your Luxan and Nebari friends may only serve to hamper your attempts to free John," Scorpius suggested.

"I wasn't going to get them involved," Aeryn countered and gave the half-breed the once-over. "So, what exactly do you hope to gain from this cooperation?"

The half-Scarran glanced at Braca, who was watching and listening, then placed a hand on Aeryn's shoulder and guided her away from the soldiers and out of earshot. "Merely to talk to him," he said. "And we of course offer medical assistance should he need it."

Aeryn almost smiled at that suggestion, but it would have been a very unbecoming one of its kind. "You expect me to bring John here? To your command carrier?"

"Oh no. I offer to meet you at the landing pads. I do believe we can go that far as long as we do not venture into the city itself. We shall take care of him, restore his health if necessary, and he and I can talk. After that, depending on John's decision, he is free to leave."

Aeryn stared at him for a microt while her mind was working overtime on how to get around this. There was really only one option and she wasn't overtly keen on it. But right now she saw no other solution to this problem. "I cannot make that decision for him, Scorpius. I do not trust you, but his ... lack of trust in you goes a lot deeper. If he is injured and I hand him over to you, he will never forgive me."

Scorpius nodded. "I assumed as much," he confessed. "We shall leave that decision up to him then, shall we?"

She contemplated it for a moment longer, then nodded once and made no further commitments.


Night time on the main planet was not exactly the most exciting time, Aeryn mused, as she made her way through deserted streets. It appeared that nobody was out after dark, which made her wonder what that was all about. Superstition? Something real? "I don't frelling care," she muttered under her breath and glanced down at the map Scorpius had provided her with. All the streets were well lit and with nobody around to hamper her passage, she made good speed and soon found herself on the far side of the palace wall.

She inspected the high wall stretching off in both directions and wondered why the frell there were no guards on top of it. She had seen no indication of electronic surveillance either and Scorpius' intel confirmed that. This Sovereign had a lot of faith in her own invulnerability, it seemed. Or maybe she had a lot of faith in her subjects. It had been impossible for Aeryn to find anyone who had a grudge against the female or disliked her enough to divulge information.

"Frell this," she muttered and lowered her visual inspection to the lower part of the wall. According to the map she held, there should be an entrance somewhere in this area. She pushed her way through dense foliage growing close to the wall and eventually found a small side entrance hidden behind vines and tree branches. Using the torch she had brought for the same purpose, she welded through the lock and then carefully pushed the gate open. Any microt now, she expected to hear a siren wailing or see the palace guards come running, but nothing happened. "Lax security," she growled and stepped through.

Once inside the walls, she pulled the gate shut behind her, but made sure it wouldn't stick at an inopportune moment, then looked around for the next access point, which turned out to be right across from where she had come through; a set of stairs leading down into the bowls of the palace.

Before moving across the open expanse between the wall and the palace, she waited for a while to see if her luck held, but still there were no alarms, no sign of anyone coming toward her position, and eventually she hurried across and down the stairs. The door that met her was not sturdy and she again wondered about the lax security. This was definitely not Peacekeeper territory. Using the torch again, she melted the lock and pushed the door inward. It opened up into a dark corridor going straight in.

When the door shut behind her, the darkness was complete and she stood for a moment to see if her eyes would get used to the darkness. When that didn't happen, she unclipped a small hand-held lamp and switched it on. The corridor, like the palace above her, seemed to have been burned out of a solid piece of rock. She started moving, keeping to the middle of the corridor while holding the lamp up high. It was peculiar how her hearing was affected by the darkness surrounding her. She constantly thought she could hear people moving just out of view. "Frell," she muttered, but kept moving forward until the darkness ahead became a little less compact and then began to fade to grey as she neared areas in use.

She switched the lamp off and hooked it back onto her belt before rounding the first corner she had come across in this corridor. It opened up into a main corridor and Aeryn pulled back behind the corner again when she identified the sounds she had heard before. Obviously sound traveled through the corridor, but now she saw those making those sounds. Three white-clad individuals stepped out of one of the rooms, one of them pulling off the viral filter over her mouth and nose.

"All we can do now is wait," she said.

The others followed suit by pulling off their filters as well. "Yes, considering that this is an unknown species, it will probably take all night," the male said. "Well, it's not like he's going anywhere, so we can just get some well-deserved sleep and report our findings to the Sovereign in the morning."

They all walked away in the opposite direction of where Aeryn was hiding and she only moved again when she heard a door slid shut further on, which cut off their voices.

Slowly, she edged back around the corner and inspected this new corridor stretching out in front of her. It was twice as wide as the one she had come in through and lit in muted light; and there was no indication of surveillance anywhere.

She held up the map and realized that the room Scorpius thought John was in, was the one those three had just left. Aeryn lingered for a moment, listening to the quiet basement. The only thing she could hear was a faint hum of machinery and that was it. "This is far too easy," she muttered, but pushed on anyway.

She reached the door and pushed the release. It whooshed into the wall and after one more look around the corridor, she stepped inside.

The sound of machinery was louder inside. She focused on the t-table and its unwilling occupant and stopped dead. He was strapped down, eyes closed, his skin waxen, his breath hitching in and out. But that was all the sound he made, which made no real sense to her. From the tenseness of his body alone she would have assumed that he'd be screaming or at least moaning and this complete silence unnerved her.

She reached out to touch his shin, which instantly brought his head up. His eyes widened, his breath quickened, but still he said nothing. It wasn't until she realized he was straining to move his jaw with no luck that she knew they had gagged him chemically. "Frell," she hissed. "Hang on. Let me just …" She trailed off, looking for the right injector and found it after rooting around on the tables. From what she remembered, chemical gagging involved two injections and two further to undo the gag again.

With the two injectors in hand, she turned back to the table and only then realized that there was something stuck to his side. She stared at the metal plating for a moment. "What the frell are they doing to you?" she asked, well aware that he could not answer her right now.

She returned to his side, pressed the first injector against the side of his jaw and pressed the trigger. It took a microt before it worked, but finally he opened his mouth and flexed his jaw. "This one will sting," she said and pressed the second injector against his larynx. He jerked when she pulled the trigger, then made a raspy kind of sound. In the process, she had placed a hand on his chest and felt the constant tremor rippling through him. She gently stroked his throat, hoping to speed up the process that would give him back his voice, then turned her attention to the metal plating along his side. "Do you know what this is?" she asked.

"Keevar," he rasped, his voice so strained she feared he would snap something just trying to speak.

The implications of what he had said, though, made her blood run colder than normal. She inspected the plating more closely and noted the wiggling ends of keevar-lines sticking out of each of the smaller plates. "Frell this," she growled and briefly looked around for gloves that would make the removal of this abomination safer for her.

"Get them … out. Can … feel them … moving," he rasped. "Aw god, please."

"I will. You just have to be quiet. We don't want to alert anyone," she said, pulled the gloves on and took a hold of the first plate. He tensed up when she pulled at it and she only barely managed to clamp a hand over his mouth to stop the scream threatening to erupt. "I'm going to have to force them out," she said quietly.

As she pulled on the first line, extracting it dench by dench from his body, she was glad she hadn't unstrapped him first. Even with the tight straps holding him down, he was trashing, fighting against the pull. "Frell this," she muttered and yanked her hand backward, extracting the frelling thing in one smooth go. Apparently removing them had to be done quickly. She tossed the first plate into a corner, where the keevar-line wiggled around on the floor, while she grabbed the next plate and yanked it out of him, praying quietly that she didn't damage anything in the process.

After extracting eight of these horrors from his body, Aeryn was about ready to shoot someone. She had only heard of the usage of this specific type of organ mapping and usually it meant the demise of the afflicted because the pain was unbearable and the risk that the keevar-lines at some point penetrated something vital was always present.

She carefully peeled her hand off his mouth and had to admire him for staying conscious throughout the extraction. Proceeding to unstrap his arms and his chest, she then removed the sheet to unstrap his legs as well and came to a complete standstill for a microt. "Stay down," she advised when he made an attempt at sitting up.

He laboriously raised his head and spotted what she was staring at. With a groan, he let his head drop back down on the table.

Catheters were not something normally used in the Peacekeeper regime, but Aeryn knew what it was and how to remove it. The question was just how he would respond to it. "Just hold still," she said, picked up a cloth and removed the catheter as quickly and as painlessly as she could. He let out a whimper, but she assumed he was just in so much discomfort that this just added insult to injury.

Then she picked up the sheet again after unstrapping his legs and helped him sit up. He slumped against her, trying to curl up on himself with little luck, and Aeryn realized right there and then that he was not walking out of here under his own power.

"We have to go. Now," she said, wrapped her arms around him and hauled him off the table. His knees buckled the microt his feet hit the floor, but Aeryn held on to him, keeping him up, and he in turn tried to do his best to hold onto her.

She wrapped the sheet around him and briefly considered the now awkward walk through town toward the landing pads where Scorpius and his soldiers were waiting. She grimaced lightly and noticed that John was taking a bit of his weight off her, which meant he'd found his balance. "I'm not even going to ask if you can walk," she said.

"I can walk out of here," he rasped, clinging desperately to her.

Although she had her doubts about that, she nodded nonetheless. "Of course you can," she agreed and guided him toward the door. It was slow going and she hoped that they would at least be outside the palace walls before someone raise the alarm, but she wasn't holding her breath for that one.

He seemed to gain more strength the further they walked and she attributed that to his very urgent need to get the frell out of here. She used the forward momentum this created to move them faster down the corridor, which fell back into blackness when they had gone about halfway. She didn't bother about the lamp. She had a good feel for the corridor now and knew approximately how far it was to the door.

When they reached it, Aeryn dared to hope they would make it. She was ready to shoot her way out if necessary; anything to prevent them from dragging him back to that room and those archaic methods they obviously used on prisoners. All the good things Aeryn had ever heard about this system were turning sour bit by bit.

She hauled the door open and they were hit by a chilly breeze. John shuddered and instinctively pulled back a step, which nearly upended him. Aeryn could barely keep a hold of him to stop him from falling backwards. "Frell, don't do that," she snapped and righted him again. "The faster we get out of here, the better for you. Focus, John."

He nodded weakly, but made no move to speak, and she hated it already. Everything was wrong when John didn't speak.

"Come on," she urged and pulled him out the door and up the stairs. She knew she should have closed the door behind them, but doing so would mean she would have to let go of him and there was just no way that he would remain standing if she released him. And if he fell, she wasn't entirely certain she would be able to get him back on his feet.

They made their way across the open area between the palace and the wall and she kicked the gate open before propelling them both through. This time she did pause to pull the gate shut behind her, not that it would make any difference if they were pursued. And still there was no sign of activity, no alarms, not guards. It worried her on some level, but she was not going to slow down to test if this was a trap.

Instead of heading back into town, she turned them the other way and urged him forward in the direction of the edge of town stretching away from the palace. She steered them up a slight incline towards a grassy area.

Once there, she let out a sharp whistle that made John flinch and right before them, Lo'La became visible and D'Argo came down the ramp to meet them.

"Oh, my friend," he groaned when he saw the condition John was in.

Together they got John into the ship and settled down. "Get us out of here," Aeryn said. "And use the cloaking device. We don't want to be spotted."

"I was going to do that anyway," D'Argo said patiently and settled in behind the controls.

John doubled over until Aeryn pushed him back up and strapped him in. "You'll be able to sleep soon," she promised. "You just need to stay with me for a moment, okay?"

He met her eyes and brought a shivering hand up to touch her face. "I knew you'd come," he rasped.

"Of course," she agreed and pressed her hand over his, steadying it a little. "I will always come for you," she added with a vague smile.


Aeryn's first inclination had been to get him to the med bay so she could run him through the scanner first and foremost, but he was so wasted, so tired, that when he begged to be taken to his bed instead, she relented. Whatever stamina he had built up during their escape was gone by the time they reached Moya, and D'Argo was forced to carry him to his bed.

Aeryn helped him get settled and then sat down on the edge of his bed. "Will you be alright?" she asked.

He gave her a pale smile. "Yeah. I just need to sleep this off," he said, already struggling to keep his eyes open.

"Then rest," she said, rose and turned around to face the other three. "Come on. Let's give him some peace," she added and shooed them all out.

They retired to the galley and D'Argo broke out the raslac. "So, what the frell now?" he asked.

Aeryn settled down across from him and accepted the offered cup. Chiana slid in beside D'Argo while Rygel remained at the end of the table. "Now we let him sleep and see how he feels when he wakes up again. Either way, we're leaving this system as fast as we can," she said and glanced over at the clamshell and the image of Pilot.

"We are well under way," Pilot agreed. "Moya will do a series of starbursts to hopefully shake off any pursuers."

"Thank you, Pilot," Aeryn said and returned her attention to the others.

"You double-crossed Scorpius. How drad is that?" Chiana cooed, obviously impressed.

Aeryn shrugged. "In his present condition, John is in no position to make any decisions or, for that matter, defend himself. I was not going to let Scorpius anywhere near him. I just needed the information. It's not my fault that Scorpius thinks I'm still a Peacekeeper at heart," she said and couldn't help a vague smile.

D'Argo eyed her for a moment and then barked out a laugh. "And here I thought Peacekeepers couldn't change," he chuckled, then grew serious again. "But you do realize that you have incurred his wrath now, don't you?"

She grimaced. "Why should John have all the fun?" she countered. "Let's just stay the frell away from Peacekeeper territory for now."

"What about the deal you made with Scorpius?" D'Argo asked.

"I will mention it to John when he feels better. I won't have him run into Scorpius at some point and find out I kept this from him," Aeryn said, emptied her cup and set it down on the table. "I need some sleep," she added and rose. "The rest of you, stay away from John for now. Let him sleep."

That said, she left the galley again and headed back to her own quarters to catch up on her sleep. She hadn't slept much in the days that John had been missing.


When John woke up again, the first thing that struck him was this odd sense of vertigo despite lying down. He shifted a little and draped an arm over his face, grateful for the small things right now; namely the ability to move.

He felt heavy somehow, like something was weighing him down, but he could move his limbs freely. A little apprehensive on account of the vertigo, he pushed up on his elbows, testing the waters. It wasn't so bad. He was dizzy, but that could be because of dehydration. The nutrition drip he'd been on had been inadequate and, he realized, he was also hungry.

With an effort, he sat up, trying to sense his body, to figure out how it was all responding, and for now he seemed to be doing okay; not perfect, but okay. He pulled lead-heavy feet over the edge of the bed and pushed the sheet aside, then glanced down himself. First thing's first. He needed clothes. It took a try or two before he managed to get up and he leaned forward, grabbing his knees, to let the dizziness settle before he attempted to move further. He managed sweats and a t-shirt before he had to sit down again, and for a long moment he just considered going back to bed. But a call of nature would not be denied. Bathroom first, then food and water, he decided and struggled back to his feet again.

"Haven't felt this crappy since I had that bout of food poisoning when I was a kid," he muttered and cleared his throat. That injection that had paralyzed his vocal cords had wreaked havoc on his voice.


Aeryn, who's quarters were not that far from John's, had given up on sleeping and was instead cleaning her pulse pistol when she heard something that made her drop the weapon and rush out the door. She skittered into John's quarters and took in the fact that he wasn't in bed.

"John?" she called.

This was answered by a groan coming from the cleansing room. She strode over to the open door and came to a stop when she found him on his knees, one hand on the floor, the other on his crotch. For a microt she stared at him, trying to determine what had caused that sound of agony from him.

She took in his paleness and the sweat covering his face, and hunkered down next to him, slipping a hand onto the back of his neck. "What happened?"

He let out a grunt and glanced at her. "That catheter must have done more damage than I thought," he rasped, his voice strained and rough.

Aeryn glanced at the waste receptacle unit and grimaced. "Frell," she muttered. "Can you get up?"

He swallowed convulsively and tried, but gave up with a whimper. "No go," he pressed out through clenched teeth. "Just … give me a minute."

Aeryn rose, took a hold of his arm and hauled him to his feet, which drew a restrained groan from him.

"That was never a minute," he rasped and doubled over.

"D'Argo?" Aeryn called while helping John straighten up again. She hauled his arm over her shoulder and managed to get him all the way back into his cell before he pulled to a stop.

"Stop, stop," he gasped, trying to double up again. "I can't."

"We need to figure out how bad it is, John," she insisted, but did not force him to walk any further. "D'Argo?" she yelled again.

"I'm coming," she heard the Luxan reply and a moment later he turned up in the doorway.

"We need to get him to the med bay. He can't walk," she said, inclining her head toward John.

Ignoring John's feeble objections, D'Argo picked him up and carried him to the med bay, depositing him on the scanner bed. "Have you lost weight?" he asked when he released John. "You feel lighter."

John just groaned in reply and Aeryn assumed it was equal parts embarrassment and agony. "Thank you," she said to D'Argo, then turned to John. "You need to stretch out."

He shook his head. "Nope, can't do that," he rasped.

"Yes, you can. Just do it slowly," she disagreed. With a bit of coxing, she managed to get him to lie flat on his back so she could run the scanner over him and figure out what the frell these fekkiks had done to him.

Once she had finished scanning him, she turned to the display and inspected the indicated injuries.

"How bad is it?" John asked and shifted painfully onto his side.

She shook her head lightly. "Not too bad. There are some ... tears," she said, "which would explain the pain. It will heal."

He grunted out something that sounded a bit like a laugh. "Only it'll hurt like a bitch until then, right?" he rasped, turned his head and pressed his brow against the edge of the scanner bed. "I have just about had enough pain to last me a lifetime here."

She continued eying the display, seeing the indicated paths the keevar-lines had dug through him. None of it was fatal in its own right, but there was no doubt that some of this had the potential to cause severe pain. "Pilot, is there anything I can give him that will reduce the pain?" she asked, turning her attention to the clamshell.

"There is. And, from what I know, there are still plenty of Zhaan's remedies left. You need to mix them, though," Pilot replied.

Aeryn eyed the ingredients list scrolling over the screen. "That can't be too difficult," she muttered and went in search of what she needed. She mixed the dried herbs together, ground them to dust, then poured hot water over it and stirred. The smell of the concoction was a bit heady. She frowned, then turned back and handed it to John. "Drink this," she said.

He raised his head and eyed the cup. "What? Now you're feeding me tea? I didn't know I was that far out," he rasped and tried a wan smile.

"Just shut up and drink it. It will make you feel better," she countered evenly.

He pushed up in a sitting position, took the cup and sniffed at the contents. Then he arched an eyebrow and took a sip of it. "Not bad," he muttered and downed the rest in one go.

Aeryn watched him closely, briefly allowing the concern that she might have used wrongly labeled herbs to cross her mind, but pushed that thought away again.

"I don't feel anything," John said after a moment and focused on her. Then his eyes widened a little. "Nothing," he said and carefully pulled his legs over the edge of the scanner bed. "At all," he added.

"Just take it slow, John. Even though you may not feel anything now, you will when it wears off," she admonished him and helped him get off the scanner bed. Although he might not be in pain right now, he was still far from back to his old self.

"You gotta make some more of that stuff," he said, while leaning heavily on her.

"I will. And you need to rest and revitalize," she countered, then glanced at D'Argo who had remained silent throughout the whole thing.

"I'll take him back to his quarters," the Luxan said willingly.

"I'm injured, not deaf," John inserted and gave D'Argo a dark look.

"I'm sorry, my friend," D'Argo countered with a smile, which was then replaced by a look of concern. "Should you walk? I mean … as Aeryn said, you might not be in pain right now, but you will most likely be again when the tea wears off."

John considered it for a moment, then grimaced. "Fine. But this is the last time you carry me around like this," he warned.

D'Argo rolled his eyes and shook his head lightly. "With your track record, I can make no promises of that kind," he said.

"Ah, frell this," Aeryn said, opened one of the many supply cabinets and pulled a hover stretcher out. She switched it on and watched with satisfaction while it rose into the air and stopped at hip-height. "You don't want to be carried? Well, you're not walking. So get on this and stop being such a frelling infant," she said.

John stared at the stretcher for a moment, then focused on her. "And we had this the whole time?" he asked.

"Every leviathan - frell, every Peacekeeper vessel has hover-stretchers," she countered and pushed the stretcher over to him. "Get on," she added.

He looked skeptical, but finally sighed and hoisted himself up on the stretcher with D'Argo's help. "You should probably lie down," the Luxan suggested. "Hover-stretchers are notoriously unstable if you're sitting up."

With an annoyed expression on his face, John stretched out on it. "That better?" he asked.

"That will do fine," Aeryn said with a smile. "I think I can handle him from here," she added to D'Argo, who nodded and remained behind when Aeryn pushed the stretcher out of the med bay.

"I feel much better," John complained.

"Yes, and in a couple of arns, you'll feel much worse if you overdo it," she countered. "Stop being such a brat."

He shifted his head and glared up at her. "Stop using words you don't understand," he shot back.

"I know what a brat is, you drannit," she said with a snide grin. "Just stay down and enjoy the ride."


As suspected, the pain John had suffered from earlier came back after a few hours and he was suddenly glad that he had allowed Aeryn to bully him into staying in bed. The worst would still be the damage that frigging catheter had left behind and it would probably take a few days before that cleared up enough that he wouldn't want to shoot himself before using the head.

"Shit," he groaned and shifted uncomfortably. The effects of the tea were slowly wearing off now and with every moment it seemed, his discomfort rose a notch. Not wanting to be a pain in anyone's neck, especially not after Aeryn had risked everything by coming to get him, he dragged it out and eventually had trouble drawing a decent breath without feeling that stabbing pain from his groin. The rest of his aches and pains paled in comparison. No amount of shifting around took the brunt off the pain and he found himself clawing his fingers into the covers to keep from voicing this particular pain.

"Looks like you need another shot." Aeryn's voice was sweet music to his ears and he sent her a hopeful look.

She sat down on the edge of the bed and held the mug out to him. He grabbed it and downed the contents in one go, ignoring the heat of the liquid. Then he slumped back on the bed and closed his eyes, waiting for the promised relief. When it finally came, it came all at once. In one heartbeat, the pain was gone and he exhaled deeply.

"Feeling better?" she asked.

He opened his eyes and nodded. "Yeah," he agreed. "Guess I should stay horizontal for the time being, huh?"

"That might be a good idea," she agreed and eyed him closely. "How do you feel in general?"

"Fine, I guess," he said and finally allowed himself to think about this latest ordeal. "I'm disaster prone," he added. "Aren't I?"

"I don't know what the frell this is, John," she admitted. "We seem incapable of avoiding Scorpius and I would really like to know why. With the neural tracer chip gone, there is no frelling way he can track you. So how does he do it?"

"I don't know," he admitted. "But Scorpy and his uncanny sense of homing isn't exactly the first thing that springs to mind here. That ... Sovereign ... she kicked him out, told him that PKs aren't welcome in that system. And for a moment there I thought she was actually helping me. I should know better by now."

She took his hand, squeezing it lightly. "You do seem to have an uncanny ability to run into people who want to exploit you for being unique," she agreed.

"Yeah," he said. "I'm not gonna set foot on another planet for a while here," he added. "I am fed up with running away all the time." He propped an arm behind his head and stared up at the ceiling for a moment while meshing his fingers with hers. "How did you get in there without them seeing you?"

Aeryn's grip briefly tightened and he glanced at her, noting an expression he didn't really like on her face.


She pursed her lips, her attention on something above him. Then she looked down, meeting his eyes. "I got the information from Scorpius," she said.

All he could think of doing was to stare at her. "Come again?" he asked.

She looked uncomfortable. "I was on my way to the palace after I figured out that you had been arrested. And I ran into him. And Braca. He offered his help, but I obviously refused him," she said. "They left and I was left with no options. I tried talking to the Sovereign, but she would not even consider compensation, much less your release. At the time I did not know how bad it was, but I felt the definite urge to get to you as fast as possible. My only option was to go to Scorpius, make a deal with him and then … frell him over." At this, she shrugged lightly, her eyes now on their meshed fingers.

John blinked. "Say what?" he asked, a little stunned. "You shafted him?"

She grimaced at his choice of words. "In a manner of speaking. He risked a lot, to be honest. He gave me your location - don't ask me where he got that from - and they were waiting at the landing pads. In case you needed medical attention, he said," she explained. "Only, I arranged with D'Argo to pick us up on the other side of the palace in Lo'La, cloaked obviously. And the rest you know."

"Do you know how many ways that could have gone wrong?" he asked, still too surprised to respond in any meaningful way.

Aeryn smirked. "It was my plan, not yours. How could it go wrong?" she countered.

"Oh, ha-ha," he grumbled and tightened his grip on her hand for a moment. "What did he want from me? Did he say? The same old crap?"

Aeryn rubbed the back of her neck with a thoughtful expression. "He says he just wants to talk to you. Obviously I do not believe him, but I did make a deal with him that he would get to talk to you," she said and met his eyes again. "Not that I plan on honoring that deal."

"So, he's been hunting me all over the UTs like a rat in a frigging maze and all he wants is to talk to me?" he mused. "Has that guy ever heard of sending a message?"

"I don't know, John. It all seemed a little too convoluted, to be honest. I asked him the same question, but he never really replied to it," she said.

"I'm fed up with this, with him hunting me all over the place, with everybody wanting a piece of me. What the hell do I have to do to get out from under this?" he lamented.

"I don't know. And talking to him is not an option, John," she said.

Tiredly, he scrubbed a hand over his face. "I know. He wants to crack my skull open and find the wormhole tech. He wants to shaft the universe with it because he has daddy-issues," he said quietly.

"Of course he does," she agreed and leaned down to pick up the mug. "I read up on this concoction. It looks like it promotes healing as much as it stems pain. I should make some more of it."

John tightened his grip on her hand, preventing her from rising. "Have I told you lately that I love you?"

This made her smile. "Just about all the time," she countered and then her smile turned a little sad. "I love you too."

"And look at you, mixing medicine, fixing machines, keeping us all together. In all this crap, I still don't get what I did to deserve you," he said.

"As far as I recall, I was not given to you," she countered and smirked when he opened his mouth to object. "Just get some rest, you drannit," she added, rose and left the cell before he could think of anything appropriate to say.

"Good advice," he muttered and closed his eyes again.


It took precious time for John to get back on his feet, but he healed with the aide of the concoctions Aeryn came up with.

A few solardays after he had finally reached a point where he seemed as comfortable as he could get, Aeryn had to go in search of him, because he had disappeared and refused to answer the coms.

She found him in the training bay, sitting on a crate that contained various training tools, elbows on thighs, while he stared at the sparring dummy. "Did you hear me calling?" she asked.

He blinked, frowned lightly and finally looked at her. "What?"

He wasn't wearing a com-badge, which was obviously why he hadn't answered it. "I said, did you hear me calling you?"

He shook his head. "No." He sat up straight and flinched briefly. "What's up?"

"I was just wondering where you were," she countered and stepped closer. "Are you alright?"

"If being a trouble magnet is alright, then I guess so," he said. "I'm fed up with this, Aeryn."

"With what?" she asked and stopped next to him.

"The running. The ... fear," he said and leaned forward a bit, propping his elbows on his thighs again while he started picking at one thumb nail. "I'm fed up with being hunted all the time. I'm tired of feeling that I can't go anywhere without that wraith turning up to try and suck the life out of me." He snorted, a halfhearted attempt at a smile curling his lips. "I feel haunted."

Aeryn hunkered down and put a hand on his knee. "There must be a reason for that he can track you, John. Every frelling time we set down somewhere, he or his soldiers turn up. In my opinion, that means that there's either something on Moya or something in you that he can track."

He swallowed, his expression tensing. "Seems like the chip wasn't the only hardware he's dumped in me," he muttered and dropped his eyes to the floor between his feet. "Question is, how do we find it?"

"We can try the bio-scanner. It might be organic, but if it is a foreign object in your body, there should be a way to find it," she tried.

He smirked joylessly. "What if it's in my head? What if he made sure it can't be removed?"

"Ask Harvey," she suggested.

He focused on her, searching for the ridicule without finding it. "I'd rather not. He can't be trusted any more than Scorpy can."

"I find that offensive," Harvey commented.

John glanced up at the wraith living inside his mind. "That's another thing I want gone," he said and sighed deeply.

Aeryn glanced at the empty spot too. It had taken her some time to get used to the idea that he would spontaneously converse with empty space, but she had no doubt that what he saw was there. It was a manifestation of the neural bleed and she admired him for not having lost his mind because of it. When he dropped his head forward, she slipped a hand onto the back of his neck. "Let's try the scanner. If that does not pay off, there are other options."


In part John was apprehensive about the scanner. He was scared stiff of realizing there was another chip in his brain or something similar. But at the same time it would explain a lot. He stretched out on the scanner bed, mulling over that he spent way too much time on his back, and held still while Aeryn ran the scanner over him.

She studied the display for a moment. He sat up and eyed it too, not entirely sure what he was looking for. "You see anything?" he asked.

"What's that?" she asked and pointed toward his right hip.

He narrowed his eyes a little and leaned closer. "I don't know," he confessed. "Could that be it?"

Aeryn pursed her lips. "It could be," she said and turned her attention to him.

He got off the scanner bed and slipped a finger down between the lining of his pants and his right hip, feeling for anything that shouldn't be there. He couldn't immediately locate anything, though. "There's nothing there," he muttered.

Aeryn grabbed his wrist and pulled his hand away, then replaced his finger with her own. She pressed into the flesh a little harder than he had and suddenly stopped moving. "There," she said. "It's pretty deep."

He glanced up at the display, then back down at her hand. "I don't care how deep it is. I want it gone," he said, his tone a bit jittery.

"Fine. I'll remove it. But it will hurt," she said. "Drop your pants."

He smirked lightly. "That's kinda hot," he said.

"Save it for later, John," she warned.

She dug out a gadget he hadn't seen before and grabbed a cloth as well. Then she grabbed a canister and held it out to him. "I made more of that tea," she said. "It should dull the pain."

He nodded, popped the lid off the canister and took a swig. "Dig in," he said and braced himself against the edge of the scanner bed.

The gadget she had dug out was a laser-cutter. It minimized bleeding and the tea took the top off the pain, but he still had a hard time holding still. She cut a narrow gash into his skin, then grabbed a pair of pliers before looking up at him. "Are you ready for this?"

"Not even close," he admitted through gritted teeth. "Just ... do it."

She nodded once, inserted the pliers and pulled whatever was hiding under his skin out. She dumped it in a tray, then switched something on the laser-cutter and used it to seal the wound. Then she sprayed that liquid band-aide stuff on and straightened up. "There," she said and turned her attention to the tray. "A tracer," she added.

John gingerly rubbed his now sore hip, his attention on the pen-thick dull grey tube. "A tracer?" he asked. "I do not remember how it got there."

"You did not remember the neural tracer chip either, John," she reminded him. "This might have happened at the same time."

"Great," he muttered and pulled his pants up again. "I'm a walking beacon. No wonder that freak keeps finding me."

"Yes, no wonder," Aeryn agreed, put the tray down and picked up the laser-cutter again. She glanced at him, then used the cutter to turn the tracer into ash.

"That should piss him off," John said with satisfaction.

"And you're injured again," she amended.

"This?" he asked, rubbing his palm over the decidedly sore spot. "That's nothing. I've had worse," he claimed.

"Yes, you have," she agreed. "So, now that Scorpius can't track you any more, perhaps you want to go on a food supply run with me?"

The idea of setting foot on another planet sent a shudder through him and the fun bled out of the situation instantly. "Not yet, Aeryn," he said with a light shake of the head.

"The best way to get over this is to jump right back into it, John," she insisted.

"It's too early," he disagreed.

For a moment he thought she would insist or maybe even force him, but then she shrugged lightly. "You decide when it's time," she said. "Do you need a hand?"

"No, I'm good," he said and leaned back against the scanner bed. He wasn't too keen on letting her know just how much that incision hurt.

The way she eyed him made him feel that she knew, but she left it alone. Instead she stepped up to him and kissed him briefly before turning around to leave. He grabbed her arm and pulled her back against him. "I would be so screwed without you," he said and kissed her once more.

"Yes, you would," she agreed, pulled out of his grasp and left the med bay.

He gave her about a minute to get out of earshot before he gritted his teeth and let out a low hiss. "Son of a …" he groaned and cupped a hand over the dully thudding wound, while grabbing the canister of tea with the other. He downed half the contents before the full effect kicked in and he could thereby testify that this stuff worked best fresh and hot.