Chapter 3

Aboard Moya

D'Argo had prepped his ship and was ready to go when Chiana snug into the bay. "D'Argo," she called out, causing the big Luxan to stop short of the entry hatch.

Convinced that he knew what came next, he turned around to face her and gave her a scowl. "Chiana, there is no sense in discussing this. I am going to that world to ask for directions and nothing more. I'll probably be back within the arn. If this frelling leviathan won't do what it takes, someone else has to make the decisions," he told her sternly.

"But ..." Chiana tried, but D'Argo raised both hands to stop her.

"No, Chiana. I am tired of sitting around and doing nothing," he stated and started to turn back toward the hatch.

"Just be careful," she said uneasily.

D'Argo stopped moving for a microt, recognizing that tone of voice. He glanced back at her and then turned to face her fully. "There is no need to be afraid, Chiana. Everything will work out fine," he assured her and pulled her into a hug.

Chiana pulled back a little to look up into his eyes. "I ... have a bad feeling about this, D'Argo," she said. "Yeah, a real bad feeling."

He frowned a little. "You had a vision?" he asked.

"Well ... no, not exactly," she said reluctantly. "Just ... sort of a ... you know ... bad feeling."

He snorted and released her to take a step backward. "Bad feelings do not concern me," he said. "I can deal with whatever is out there. As long as you all just stay here, I can do what needs to be done."

"But ..." she tried again, but he stopped her once more, putting a finger on her lips.

"Do not worry, Chiana. I will be back soon," he promised, swirled around and hurried into his ship.

Dropping down on the pilot's seat, he closed the hatch and activated the ship with a few well-placed grunts in ancient Luxan. "Pilot," he called.

"Yes, Ka D'Argo?"

"I am ready to take off. I will stay in touch with you all the time and I will be back soon," he said.

"Both Moya and I still believe that this is not a good idea," Pilot's reply came instantly.

D'Argo rolled his eyes, annoyed at the whole lot of them. "There is no other option at this point, Pilot. Besides, if this is a primitive world, there should be no danger."

"There is always danger on primitive worlds," Pilot contradicted. "Be careful," he added.

"Don't worry," D'Argo tried to assure him and couldn't help hissing quietly under his breath. All these worrywarts were going to be the death of him, he thought, as he guided his ship out of the bay and changed course toward the blue and green world closer to this system's sun.

***

Time passed slowly while Chiana and Rygel had engaged in a less than compelling board game. Chiana was less than attentive, her thoughts on anything other than moving the pieces around on the board. Winning was metras from her mind, but she still managed to beat Rygel at his own game two out of three times and the Hynerian took off after a while, miffed at the obvious fact that she could outwit him without even trying.

Jool was spending some time in front of the mirror in her chamber, doing what Interions did best to pass time. She thought about her situation a lot. She had left Chiana and Rygel shortly after Chiana had returned from the bay and she had noted Rygel whizzing by her door on his sled, mumbling to himself about lesser species, which in Jool's opinion was a definite sign that the Hynerian royal was ticked off.

Chiana's halfhearted responses had given away her preoccupation and Jool had not been in the mood to drag every word out of her and had left to be on her own for a bit. Jool had never been good at reading others, had never found it necessary to learn how, and didn't know why Chiana was preoccupied or what to do about it. Her cousins, those frellnicks, had taken the lead in everything and she had only been too happy to follow. She was considered top of the line on Interion, daughter of an important man, an only child and spoiled to the roots of her hair. She was smart, beautiful and worthy of respect.

Staring at herself in the mirror, she tried to come to terms with what was happening to her life. Twenty cycles were lost to her. Her parents had grown older, obviously convinced they had lost their darling daughter, and nobody on this ship respected her. Furthermore, she was surrounded by lesser species that saw her as one of them and she had been a little surprised to realize that she actually cared what they said about her.

Since she felt left out most of the time, Jool had spent a lot of time focusing on herself, but she was beginning to doubt the validity of her actions. Maybe Interions weren't the top of the line, she thought. Maybe creatures like Pilot and Rygel and the others had as much right to exist as she did; a small detail about her life she had never before given any thought.

She arranged her hair a little differently, made a face and let it down again. As she sat there staring at herself, contemplating her system of belief, she suddenly realized two things which hadn't occurred to her before now. Actually, it didn't seem to have occurred to any of the others, either. "Hezmana," she muttered. "Pilot?" she called, glancing toward the ceiling.

"Yes, Joolushka?"

Jool found that she liked Pilot the best. The others were so messed up most of the time. "Where is the old woman? I haven't seen her since we arrived here."

A moment's worth of silence answered her. "The ... old woman?" Pilot asked. "I ... don't know. She seems to have vanished."

"She can't just vanish," Jool insisted indignantly and rose. "And what about Crichton? He was running low on fuel."

"I am aware of that detail, Joolushka," Pilot replied. "However, there is unfortunately nothing we can do about the commander right now. As for the old woman, Moya informs me that there is no trace of her anywhere."

Worried by the fact that a person could just disappear so completely, Jool decided she didn't want to be on her own any more and rushed out to find Chiana. But the Nebari was nowhere to be found. Rygel was the last one she would seek comfort from and D'Argo had gone off to meet new races. That left Pilot, and Jool realized that she would feel much better in his company than alone, so she headed off in the direction of his den, very much frightened of the prospect of being all alone on the leviathan.

Pilot glanced up when she strode into his den, but said nothing. Jool stopped in front of his console, her arms crossed over her chest, and regarded him thoughtfully for a moment. "How do you do it?" she asked.

Pilot returned his attention to her. "Do what, Joolushka?"

"Control this whole ship?"

Pilot stared at her for a few mictrots, and then sighed and returned his attention to his tasks. "I do not control Moya. I merely help her control her functions," he explained and continued to do so.

A little timid, she climbed up on his console to sit where she wouldn't be in the way. Folding her hands primly, she just sat there for a moment, trying to come up with something to say. "Have you heard from D'Argo yet?" she asked after she couldn't stand the silence any more, which had lasted less than ten microts.

"Not yet," Pilot replied and continued to perform his tasks without looking up.

"Wasn't he supposed to call back all the time?" she asked on.

Pilot stopped in mid-motion, and then turned his massive head to face her. "Yes, he was," he agreed and gave her the equivalent of a frown. "Ka D'Argo, do you read me?" he tried, turning his attention inward.

Jool frowned a little while listening to nothing.

"Yes, Pilot. I read you. I am almost there. I have attempted to contact them, but am not getting a reply," D'Argo's voice rang from the speakers. "Their technology must be very pr...mitive."

"What did you say? You're transmission is breaking up," Pilot tried.

"I... techno... pr...mitive..." The connection erupted with static and Pilot quickly shut it down.

Jool stared at Pilot, waiting for an explanation, which wasn't forthcoming. "What the frell happened?" she asked.

"He must have entered the atmosphere. That is the only reason I can see for the break in communications," Pilot replied and turned his attention to the door as Chiana came in.

"Was that D'Argo?" she asked.

"Yes, Chiana, it was," Pilot agreed. "But we have lost contact with him for now. The atmosphere of that world seems to interfere with the signal, which might be why we have not been able to contact them."

"Oh ... well ... uh ... is he all right?"

"Yes, from what I heard, he sounded fine," Pilot said, and then glanced from one to the other. "Don't you two have something else to do?"

Jool felt rather unhappy that he was sending her away, but on the other hand, Chiana had turned up now, so they could hang out together. She slipped off the console again and turned to Chiana. "Let's find something to do until we hear from D'Argo again," she suggested.

Chiana gave her a sideways glance, but nodded. "All right. Let's ... do that. Yeah, good idea," she agreed and the two of them left together.

***

A few arns passed where Jool and Chiana did nothing much apart from just being together. Chiana was slowly becoming aware of Jool's preoccupation with being alone and it made her wonder about the Interion female. She had realized almost immediately that Jool wasn't used to being out of her element and that the fateful trip she had taken with her cousins had probably been the first of its kind; the little rich girl out with her reckless cousins to see the wonders of the universe.

Chiana had heard about that sort of thing before and it had always intrigued her to find out what made a girl like that tick. Being a Nebari had left her fairly few options while she was growing up. Money had never been an issue for her parents, both mind-cleansed and upstanding citizens. There was no such thing as financial independence in a society where everything was for the greater good. Neeri had early on taught her how important it was that she pretended to fit in. That hadn't made things easier for a girl like Chiana. She was born with a wild spirit and she would rather die than see it tamed.

Chiana had always been interested in these free spirits with a background to support them and Jool seemed to be one of them; a spoiled and highly intelligent being with too much time on her hands and too little insight into anything other than her own class level.

Sitting across from her in the mess, Chiana stared at Jool, who was chatting away about something which didn't catch Chiana's interest. And all Chiana could do was wonder about her. If she really thought about it, she knew that her fascination with the Interion was only a distraction. Her mind was working overtime at trying to come up with something to grab on to so she wouldn't have to think about what might be happening to her brother; or John, for that matter.

She realized almost instantly that the spell was broken, though. She had thought of both and now she couldn't stop herself from being worried sick about them. And about D'Argo, too. He was off on an alien world, maybe among a race that saw him as food. Shuddering lightly, she barely prevented herself from gasping out loud.

"Chi?" Jool asked, having become aware of her counterpart's state of mind. "Are you all right?"

"What if D'Argo's in trouble?" Chiana asked and rose. "What if he can't ... handle himself? Maybe we should have gone with him. He ... he might need ... our help."

Jool rose too, and reached across the table to grab Chiana's arm. "Don't you think a big Luxan like him can handle himself?" she asked. "Besides, if D'Argo can't handle himself on that world, neither can we. I'm sure he's fine, Chiana."

"What the yotz are you talking about?" Rygel came whizzing in on his thronesled and gave them both the equivalent of an annoyed look. "We are not going to that planet if D'Argo can get into trouble there. Why even discuss it?"

"Because he may be in trouble," Chiana insisted. "We ... can't just forget about him," she added and glanced toward the clamshell. "Pilot?"

Pilot's image appeared. "Yes, Chiana?"

"Have you heard from D'Argo since his last comm-call?" she asked anxiously. Neither Jool nor Rygel seemed to care if anything happened to D'Argo and Chiana just needed to focus her concerns on something she could deal with.

"No, Chiana. If I had, I would have let you know," Pilot replied just a tad tersely. "I am certain that there is no need to worry."

"It's been arns," she insisted, trying to hide her anxiousness with little success. It was bad enough that she couldn't join Neeri in his fight against the oppression of their people, or depend on Crichton to take her side and help her out. Now she had to face the possibility of losing D'Argo too. It raised issues in her she had thought long buried. "Could you try contacting him again?"

"It is no use," Pilot replied. "There is something in the atmosphere of that world which prevents us from keeping in touch with him."

"Can't you ask Moya to scan the planet?" Jool inserted. "She might be able to trace him."

Pilot was silent for a moment, but then he nodded lightly. "That may just work," he agreed and fell silent again for a moment.

"Well?" Chiana asked, impatient and scared at the same time.

"One moment, please," Pilot replied, his gaze on something they couldn't see. Then he raised his head again to stare directly at Chiana. "There is no trace of either Ka D'Argo or his vessel," he finally said.

"No ... trace?" Chiana felt the floor dropping away beneath her feet and for a microt felt like she was afloat in space. "What the frell? He can't just vanish," she finally said, her voice nearly breaking with tension.

Jool put her hands on her shoulders from behind, obviously concerned about her.

"I do not believe that he has vanished, Chiana," Pilot said patiently. "I do believe that our scanners cannot penetrate the atmosphere of that world. There may be too much pollution in the upper atmosphere for us to get a good reading."

"Frell," Chiana muttered and subconsciously leaned back against Jool's hands. "Can't you ... can't you convince Moya to ... to take a closer look?"

"I'm afraid Moya is still reluctant to leave the shelter of this gas planet," Pilot replied. "I shall try to convince her again."

"The yotz you will," Rygel inserted heatedly. "Why should we risk our hides to save that frelling Luxan? He couldn't wait to get into trouble. I say we stay right where we are until Moya is ready to take us home again."

"Although I don't agree with leaving D'Argo behind, Chiana, Rygel does have a point," Jool said, tightening her grip on Chiana's shoulders. "If a Luxan can't look out for himself on that world, neither can we. We would be better off just staying here until we hear from him."

Chiana pulled out of her grip and swirled around to face both of them. "Some fine friends you two are," she complained. "D'Argo would go after you in a microt if you were missing. And you can't even consider taking a closer look? Frell you! Both of you." With that, she took off at a run, wanting nothing more than to get away from these frellnicks.

***

Somewhere in the UTs

Yet another world and another spaceport met John and Aeryn with little difference between the past many they had visited. The only difference at this point was that Aeryn wasn't talking to him. Generally, she had avoided looking at him or occupying the same space with him for the majority of two days and he felt like kicking himself for pushing her that far. There was no doubt in his mind that he was to blame for her current state of mind, but there was one good thing about it. She seemed to be feeling better, which had put his mind at ease in that respect. Now he just needed to find a way to make her talk to him again.

He sighed and turned back to glance up at her, while she was pulling their bags out of the back of the prowler. "Need a hand?" he asked. She didn't answer and didn't look down at him and that made him sigh again. "Aeryn, would you please say something? Anything? How many times do I have to tell you that I'm sorry? I know I overstepped the line. I shouldn't have."

Before he could continue, she disengaged his duffle from something in the back of the prowler and tossed it over the side, hitting him with it. Surprised by the obvious attack, he stumbled back a step, barely preventing the duffle from slipping out of his hands. Before he could think of an appropriate comeback to that one, he was hit by her duffle as well, which was somewhat heavier than his own. It nearly knocked him off his feet. "Hey!" he snapped and released both duffles, no longer caring if they got dirty. "What the hell is wrong with you?" he demanded.

Aeryn climbed down from the prowler after securing it, walked over to him and bent down to grab her duffle. Without a word, she straightened again, threw it over her shoulder and started walking toward town, totally ignoring him in the process.

"Goddamn it," he hissed, grabbed his own duffle and hurried after her. When he reached her, he grabbed her arm and spun her around to face him. "Enough with the silent treatment, Aeryn. Either tell me to get lost or tell me what the hell is bugging you," he demanded.

Aeryn stared at him, her eyes cold, and then she ripped her arm out of his grip and stepped back. "Get lost," she said calmly, turned and continued to walk toward town.

He remained where he was for a moment longer, his hands on his hips, while he stared into space, his lips pursed. Was he going to let her get away with this behavior? The answer to that one would have to be a big, resounding no. He grabbed his duffle once more and hurried to catch up with her. "I don't care what you do to me right around now, Aeryn. I'm not getting lost," he told her when he fell into step beside her. She didn't acknowledge him in any way, just kept on walking briskly into town. That, at least, was progress. She wasn't trying to lose him.

***

Another fruitless day of questioning people who either didn't know or wouldn't answer their questions left John frustrated beyond compare. It was bugging him big time that Aeryn wouldn't talk to him and that nobody else seemed to be inclined to do so either. Pushing Aeryn to speak seemed to have no effect, so he let it be. He simply didn't talk to her, didn't ask her advice, and didn't bother to wait for her. Despite that, they somehow managed to stick together.

At the end of that world's day, John stood on a small square in town, his arms crossed over his chest, his mind on anything but finding Furlow. What he wanted was a bed to sleep in and some decent food and he had no idea if Aeryn was interested in that or just wanted to push on. She was still in the cantina they had visited almost an arn ago and he was waiting for her to come out so they could either find a hotel or head back to the prowler. But he was hoping she'd go for a hotel.

It took a while before she finally emerged and he couldn't help noticing how tired she looked. "Let's find a hotel," he said to her and nodded toward the other side of the square.

Aeryn glanced at him and then at the hotel, and started toward it without a word.

John sighed heavily and followed her. At least they would have somewhere to sleep tonight instead of heading off toward the next planet in line. His previous suggestion that they should slow down had not been taken into consideration. Instead, their pace seemed to have quickened.

The hotel lobby wasn't promising, but John didn't care. Nothing short of a bed of nails would prevent him from sleeping in this hotel. Since Aeryn made no move to say anything, John approached the receptionist. "We need two rooms," he said, knowing that Aeryn would not share a room with him unless she had to.

"Sorry, only got one left," the pale-skinned female behind the counter said. "Got a big bed, though," she added.

"We'll take it," he said, too tried to even think about finding another place to spend the night. Aeryn didn't respond one way or another, so he figured she didn't care. The receptionist handed him the pass card and pointed him to the levelrisers. John went ahead, assuming that Aeryn would follow, and she didn't let him down. Like it or not, they were dependent on each other at the moment if they wanted to find Moya and her crew again and that desire obviously hadn't changed.

***

The room turned out to be passable and the bed was big enough for John to forget about his worries for the moment. He dropped his duffle on the floor, took off his coat and then glanced back at Aeryn. She stood just inside the door, her duffle in one hand, her eyes on the bed and her complexion nearly pasty white.

"You okay?" he asked, knowing he wouldn't get a reply.

She gave him a look, dropped the bag and shrugged out of her coat to let it drop where she stood before she strode past him to the bathroom to get cleaned up.

"Sorry for caring," he grumbled and kicked his boots off. With a shake of the head, he dismissed the whole sorry mess and dropped down on the bed. The room was kept in a dark dirt color he couldn't really identify, but it had an effect. It was soothing and he needed that right now. With a heartfelt yawn he stretched out, draped an arm over his face and wondered when things would get back to something he could live with. Would they ever? Or would Aeryn abandon him at some point, too fed up with him to keep looking for the others? He just didn't have the answers and he couldn't see the future. Not for the first time did he miss Chiana and her visions. At least they gave a partial impression of what lay ahead even though the Nebari wasn't very good at interpreting them.

Aeryn returned from the bathroom and stretched out on the bed next to him. For a long moment, nothing happened. Then she sighed. "Turn off the light," she said quietly and turned onto her side, her back to him.

"Whatever you say," he replied and did as she asked. The room became very dark and John wondered when this cold front between them would dissipate. He just hoped it happened before she decided it wasn't worth it and left him for good. "Sweet dreams," he added and copied her posture by turning his back on her.

***