Chapter 4

Something awoke John and he felt very disoriented at first. Blinking into the complete darkness, he tried to remember where he was and couldn't quite recall for the first few moments. Then he remembered and sighed. Apparently, Aeryn had either made a sound or moved and that had roused him from his dreamless sleep.

With a grunt, he shifted around, but froze in mid-motion. He had spent quite a few nights sleeping next to Aeryn and had never really known her to make much noise. At first he figured she was having a nightmare or something, because she was almost continuously groaning and shifting around.

He reached over to switch the light on and took a second to let his eyes adjust to it before turning his attention to Aeryn. It took one look for him to realize that something was utterly wrong with her. She was lying on her side as she had been before, but was turned toward him, her eyes closed. Her arms were locked around her mid-section, her skin was so pale it was almost transparent and her hair was plastered to her head with cold sweat.

John sat up abruptly and his movement made her open her eyes, but she said nothing. Ignoring the fact that she might not want him to touch her, he pressed a hand against her brow, shocked by how cold and clammy her skin felt. "Aeryn, what's wrong?" he demanded. He would get very angry with her if she continued to give him the silent treatment.

"Hurts," she gasped and squeezed her eyes shut.

For the first time did it occur to him that her illness may be related to her pregnancy and not the lack of food or rest, and it sent a shiver up his spine. "We should find a doctor," he said and brushed her sweat-soaked hair away from her brow.

"No," she groaned. "Too ... dangerous."

"Frell dangerous," he replied heatedly. "You're in pain. I'm not going to let you suffer like this."

She grabbed his wrist, pushing his hand away from her brow. "Too ... dangerous," she rasped through clenched teeth. Her fingers closed hard around his wrist when she moaned and tried to curl up tighter.

"That does it," he growled and pulled his wrist out of her grip to get his boots on. "We're finding a doctor. Right now," he said. "And I don't care if it is dangerous. You need help. Right now." He got off the bed, grabbed his own coat and hers and turned back toward her. "Can you walk?"

Struggling, she tried to sit up, but gave up on it almost immediately; a bad sign for sure. "No," she ground out.

For a second he was undecided about what to do, the thought making him waver that if he left her behind to find help her condition could become critical rather quickly. But then he made up his mind and as quickly as possible got her into her coat after putting his own coat on. This world was a bit chilly and she was ice cold, a bad combination in his opinion.

Pushing that thought aside, he picked her up, once again surprised by how light she was. Considering her height and her build, he would have supposed that she should be heavier than that, but then again, she wasn't human.

He stopped in the reception, relieved that the receptionist was still around. "I need to get her to a doctor. Where can I find one?" he asked, hoping this female was as smart as she looked.

She ogled them for a second, but then pointed at the doors. "Street across from here. There's a medical facility not too far away," she said.

"Thanks," he replied and shouldered the front door open, worried sick that he wouldn't make it in time. Aeryn was very quiet, wasn't moving, and if it hadn't been for the harsh grip she had on the front of his T-shirt, he would have thought she had died in his arms.

He strode across the square and down the mentioned street, finding strength he didn't know he had. All he was focused on right then was finding that medical facility and getting her some treatment. If it meant he would have to pull his gun, he would do that too. There was no way he would settle for being turned down, no matter what the reason was.

While he walked, he became aware that he had no idea what this medical facility would look like. There were various kinds of shops on either side of the street, most of them closed, but none of them looked like anything remotely hospital-like. "Aeryn," he tried, but before he could ask her for help, he spotted a rather large entrance, brightly lit, a little further down the street. That had to be it. He hurried toward it and stepped through the automatic doors to find a large room behind with various aliens sitting or standing around, all of them with some sort of injury.

Before he could even start to worry about what to do next, a Sebacean female, dressed totally in black, which was a stark contrast to her blonde hair and pale skin, came toward him. "What's the matter with her?" she asked.

"Don't know. Abdominal cramps, maybe. She's pregnant," he replied, hoping this female was a nurse or something.

"Follow me," the blonde said.

John didn't have time to wonder about the fact that they were being received immediately while all the aliens sitting around had to wait. He didn't much care about that either. All he cared about was Aeryn and getting her some help.

The nurse pointed toward a gurney. "Put her on there," she instructed him, "and then return to the waiting area."

"Na-ah, I'm coming in with her," he disagreed instantly.

"Sorry," the nurse told him, her expression set. "It's against the rules. Only the sick are allowed back here," she added.

Aeryn grabbed a hold of his arm in an almost painful grip. "It's all right. It's standard procedure," she pressed out.

Feeling shunned again, he nodded and stepped back after placing her on the gurney. "Fine," he grumbled, but didn't move an inch while the nurse rolled the gurney down the hallway and out of his line of sight. Only then did he turn around and headed back to the waiting area, worried so sick his stomach was cramping up.

***

A Sebacean doctor entered the examination room Aeryn had been taken to and headed straight for her. "Let's get her into the scanner," he said to the medical tech, who nodded once.

Together they lifted Aeryn off the gurney and onto the padded bed, which was part of the bio scanner, where after the tech left.

"Now, what seems to be the problem?" the doctor asked, giving Aeryn a smile. "Hopefully not heat delirium, huh?"

"No," Aeryn groaned, suddenly wishing John was with her. He would be able to answer these questions without getting angry. "It hurts," she managed and touched her stomach.

"Well, let's run you through the scanner and see what's going on down there. You're pregnant?" the doctor asked on and activated the machine.

"Yes," Aeryn agreed somewhat reluctantly.

"Right," the doctor replied as the scanner ran over the full length of her body. "Don't worry. The equipment won't harm the baby," he added with a soothing smile. He opened a cupboard underneath the scanner and brought out an injector. "Let's give you a little something to relax on, all right?"

He placed the injector against the side of her neck and pressed the button on the side. Immediately the pain ebbed away and so did the cramp. Aeryn sighed and briefly closed her eyes before stretching out carefully to let the scanner do its job properly.

"Well," the doctor said, regarding the readout with a trained eye, "it doesn't look like there's anything wrong with the child. That, at least, should be good news." Turning his attention back to Aeryn, he gave her an encouraging smile. "How far along are you?"

"About a monan," Aeryn replied, very tired all of a sudden. It had taken John some time to wake up after she had started to feel the pain and she hadn't been able to make up her mind about whether or not to wake him. When it had become bad enough for her to become afraid, she hadn't felt herself capable of waking him.

"A monan?" the doctor asked with a slight frown and turned his attention back to the readout. "Well ..." he started, and glanced at her. "What should I call you?"

"Aeryn," she replied without hesitation.

"If you are that far along, the child should be bigger," he said and eyed her for a moment. "You're an ex-Peacekeeper, aren't you?" he asked, but raised both hands when she gave him a dark look. "Don't worry. Your secret's safe with me. We don't much like Peacekeepers here. So, are you?"

"Yes," she agreed, hoping that he was serious and hadn't called a squad to pick her up already.

"All right, how much do you know about Sebacean gestation?" he asked.

"Next to nothing," she admitted. "I was never involved in the breeding program."

"But you know the basics, right?" he asked on and she nodded. "Good. Well, as it were, since your gestation period is four monans, this child should be bigger. It's not even half as big as it should be."

"Underdeveloped?" she asked, not sure she understood what exactly that meant.

"Yes, in a sense," he agreed and immediately raised both hands in a deprecating gesture. "That doesn't mean it isn't viable, Aeryn. All it means is that we may have to resort to general Peacekeeper treatment of this situation. I don't know if you're aware of this, but if your child is not fully developed by the time the four monans have passed, your body will expel it, whether the child is ready for it or not. And this child probably won't be ready."

"Then what do we do? It's not going to die, is it?" she asked, feeling anxious all of a sudden.

"No, no, of course not. Now, the growth may pick up, so we can wait and see what happens," he suggested.

Aeryn glanced up at the readout, which made fairly little sense to her, and then returned her attention to the doctor. "So, why was I feeling so sick? And why did it hurt?"

"That's just the thing, Aeryn. You seem to be having a reaction to this child. And that, in itself, is not good. This could be based on genetics, meaning either yours or those of the father of this child. I assume the father is the male who brought you in?" the doctor asked.

Aeryn stared at him for a microt, not really sure how to respond, but then she nodded. Essentially, he was the father of her child. "Yes, he is," she said.

"Well, you may want to talk this over with him. Maybe there is something in his genetics that we should pay attention to, something that could be causing this. Shall I call him in so you can talk it over?" he asked.

Again, Aeryn hesitated a little. Then she nodded again. "Yes."

***

Unable to sit still, John had relinquished his seat to an alien with a leg injury, something which had caused said alien to give him an odd look with all of its eyes, and he had spent most of his time in the waiting area pacing the floor. To say that he was anxious was a gross understatement of the facts. He only came to a stop when the nurse returned and headed straight for him.

Fearing the worst, he stepped up to her. "How is she?"

"Relaxed," the nurse replied. "Please, follow me. She wants to see you."

"Well, that's a first," he grumbled and followed her. Figuring he would get whatever information he needed when he saw Aeryn again, he asked nothing further.

He was led into the examination room, which basically contained one big bio scanner and not much else, and found Aeryn lying on the bed of the scanner, awake and aware and seemingly in no pain. Ignoring the nurse and the doctor, he strode straight over to her.

"You okay?" he asked.

Aeryn eyed him for a moment, her eyes a little wide. "Not really," she confessed. "There's a genetic flaw."

"A genetic flaw?" John asked with a frown. "What does that mean?" He had a good idea what it could mean and it gave him a chill.

"The child is underdeveloped. It should have been bigger, considering that I'm almost a quarter through the pregnancy," Aeryn said and glanced over at the doctor.

"A quarter?" John asked, surprised. That would mean that she was at least two and a half months pregnant, which he couldn't fit into this scenario. "How's that possible? How long do Sebaceans carry their children?"

"Four monans," the doctor inserted and stepped forward, realization dawning on his face. "You are not Sebacean?" he asked John.

"No, I'm not," he agreed, not even looking at the doctor. Then he started and glanced at the man. "Four monans?" he asked. "The women where I come from carry their children for about nine," he added.

"Ah! That explains it," the doctor said. "So, essentially, the child is not underdeveloped for your race. But it is for a Sebacean. And since Aeryn is Sebacean, we are facing a problem here. You see, Sebacean females aren't designed to carry their children for more than four monans."

John stared at him for a second, and then returned his attention to Aeryn. "You didn't know this?" he asked.

"I was never involved in the breeding program," she replied defensively. "I had no need to know such things."

"Great," John muttered and then again turned back to the doctor. "So, she can't carry the child then?"

"Well, essentially ... no. But it's not really that big a problem. We simply go by standard Peacekeeper methods and that will take care of it," the doctor replied. "She is having a reaction to the child and should not even attempt to carry it to full term. My suggestion is that we remove it right now to prevent any further complications."

Despite the fact that he knew he wasn't the father of this child, John still wasn't happy to hear that. It sounded too much like an abortion to him. "And ... what is the standard Peacekeeper method? To abort the child?" he asked, trying to clarify what he didn't understand.

The doctor gave him a strange look. "No, of course not. We remove the child and place it in an artificial womb, where it can gestate for however long it takes it to finish its development. That's the standard Peacekeeper method."

Aeryn grabbed John's arm, attracting his attention, but she said nothing. "Well ... it sounds like an idea," he said, glancing at her. She didn't look happy about it, but still remained silent. "If it stops you from being sick and doesn't hurt the child, why not? I mean, it sounds like the ideal solution to me."

Aeryn's expression revealed her thoughts to him more clearly than anything she could have said. "I'm not so sure," she said quietly. "I will be tied to this world for however long it takes the child to finish developing."

John failed to see her point. "So? I'm sure the others can take care of themselves right now. You and the baby, you're more important," he stated.

Aeryn stared at him for a moment, the uncertainty still lingering, but then she nodded. "All right. We'll do that then," she agreed.

"Good," the doctor said. "I will arrange for it at once," he added and left the room with the nurse in tow.

John turned his attention back to Aeryn. "Why would you hesitate to accept an offer like that?" he asked, hoping that she didn't revert back to giving him the cold shoulder.

"Because I am not leaving here without the child," she replied, "which will effectively strand me here for the better part of four or five monans."

"And you don't like that?" he asked, a little uncertain about what she was thinking in this case.

"I can't help you find Furlow if I can't leave. And I'm not leaving the child behind," she insisted.

"I get that. The thing is, Aeryn, I'm not leaving without you, so I guess we're both stranded here for the duration. It couldn't have happened on a better world," he replied and gave her one of his trademark smiles. "Come on. This isn't so bad. At least this isn't some Peacekeeper outpost," he added.

"I'm not worried about Peacekeepers right now, John. I'm worried about the others," she replied and shifted a little.

He sighed and settled down on the edge of the scanner bed. "Well, I hate to break this to you, Aeryn, but I think they can take care of themselves for a bit longer. For all we know, they may already be back. Besides, I think there are more important issues to be dealt with right now. Like you and your child."

Aeryn eyed him for a long moment before propping herself up on her elbows. "This is not your child, as you keep insisting. Why are you so concerned about it?"

He thought about that for a moment, trying to determine which was the best way to tell her what was going through his head right now. Pursing his lips, he looked down at his boots and sighed. "Because it's a part of you. And, as you said, genetically it might as well be mine."

"I told the doctor that it was," she said.

John frowned, and then glanced at her. "Why?" he asked, a little confused. "I thought you weren't talking to me. Why would you tell a doctor that the child you carry is mine?"

Her eyes were locked on his and her expression was set. "Because ... " She hesitated, looking uncertain for a moment, "... it's a mixed child and I don't know what his decision would have been if I had told him otherwise. He thought it was a fully Sebacean child."

He couldn't help feeling a little disappointed by her words, but he shook it off immediately. Right now was not the time to be sore about phrasing. She needed him and he was damned well going to be there for her; if for nothing other than to prove to her that they were good together. "Well, now he knows different," he said instead and rose again to face her.

Aeryn looked up at him with something in her eyes he hadn't seen there before. If she had been human, he would have described it as vulnerability, but he wasn't so sure that was it. Not with her, anyway. "When this child is in the artificial womb, I want you to go on looking for Furlow, John," she said after a moment's worth of silence had passed between them.

He shook his head before she had finished speaking. "Nope. I'm not leaving you behind," he said. There was no way she could convince him otherwise.

For a moment, she just stared at him, and then she shook her head lightly and looked away. "Why do you have to be so frelling stubborn? The others may need our help, John," she said, her tone a little strained.

"Look who's talking," he muttered. "This doesn't have anything to do with stubbornness, Aeryn," he said and folded his arms over his chest. How could she assume he was merely being stubborn? "I'm worried about you and the kid. It's just a part of who I am. I can't help that."

"You don't need to worry about me or the child. We will both be fine. But we need to find Furlow. As soon as possible," she insisted.

"Aeryn," he said, causing her to look back at him.

"What?" she asked with a slight frown.

"Just leave it be. We can discuss this later when you're feeling a little better. Right now, we are going to focus on the kid. Okay?" He wasn't sure she would give in, wasn't sure at all, but he had to try and make her understand that he would not leave her side.

Aeryn remained silent for a moment, but then nodded. "All right. We'll talk about this later," she agreed and settled back on the bed again.

Moments later, the nurse returned to pick up Aeryn and she told John to go back to the waiting area. He was very disgruntled when he left, but he did leave. He didn't want to make a big fuss, which might endanger Aeryn or the kid. He could tell that Aeryn's patience was in short supply and he wasn't going to test it by being a pain.

***

John didn't really know what he had expected, but he had thought he would have to wait for at least a few hours before he got any news. Half an hour after the nurse had shooed him back to the waiting area, she returned for him.

"Is she okay?" he asked immediately.

"Aeryn is fine. So is the child," the nurse replied while she guided him down the corridor leading away from the waiting area.

Since this was going to be a totally new experience for him, John had no idea what came next. He fell silent and said nothing more until the nurse opened a door and let him inside. She didn't follow him in, but instead let the door slide shut behind him.

The doctor stood with his back to John in front of some sort of machine. For a moment, nothing happened and John eventually cleared his throat to attract attention to himself. The doctor glanced over one shoulder and smiled. "Ah, there you are," he said and stepped aside.

The machine turned out to be the artificial womb and John found himself at a loss for words as he stared at the smoky glass bubble suspended in the middle of a rust-colored machine. It was filled almost totally with some sort of transparent liquid and a very tiny creature, distinctly humanoid in appearance, was floating in the liquid, the umbilical cord snaking up into what appeared to be a bag of some sort floating on the surface of the liquid. Totally mesmerized by this being, he slowly walked closer and squatted down to look in on the still unfinished child.

The doctor apparently interpreted his silence as awe and smiled a little overbearingly. "Say hello to your daughter," he suggested.

John blinked and glanced up at him. "That's a girl?" he asked. He wouldn't have been able to tell.

"Yes, a girl," the doctor replied. "Now, Aeryn is fine, but ... she has seemingly had a reaction to the anesthesia. I do believe it's a side-effect of her reaction to the child and it will pass within a solarday."

John rose, temporarily forgetting about the baby. "What kind of reaction?" he asked, not liking the sound of that.

"She's ... a little drunk," the doctor said with a smile. "And she seems to be very ... emotional. I suggest you take her home and put her to bed. She needs to sleep. And in the morning make sure she gets a good meal before you come back here."

"Take her home?" John asked, totally stunned. "She's just had a c-section and you want me to take her home? Shouldn't she stay here, under observation or something?"

For the first time, John realized that Aeryn wasn't the only Sebacean who thought he was weird. The doctor gave him much the same look Aeryn always did when he said something she didn't understand. "Uh ... well, it's not necessary to keep her here. She's perfectly fine to go home," the doctor said a little hesitantly. "What, if I may ask, is a c-section?"

Now it was John's turn to give the doctor an odd look. "A caesarean. You know," he said, totally confused. "How else did you get the kid out of her? I mean, you open her up, don't you?"

"Yes, of course we do. But she was healed immediately. There is no danger involved," the doctor replied.

For a moment, John considered pursuing the subject, but then figured he could always find the answers later and shook his head. "Never mind. Where is Aeryn?"

The doctor nodded toward the rear of the room. John, who hadn't noticed the bed there before, gave the man a nod and walked briskly over to it. Aeryn was lying down on it, fully dressed, her hands folded on her stomach, her eyes closed. "Hey," he said. "You ready to go?"

She opened her eyes, blinked a little sluggishly at him, and then gave him a bright smile. "John," she sighed and nearly fell off the bed when she tried to get up. He caught her in time and eased her carefully onto the floor. "You came," she slurred and leaned heavily into him, looking at something past his shoulder. "Isn't she gor ... gor ... pretty?"

"Yeah, she's real pretty. Let's get you back to the hotel, okay? I think you need some shut-eye," he replied, not really sure if he liked seeing her like this. She was totally out of control and unaware of it.

Without hesitation and seemingly no afterthought, she pushed back and out of his arms, nearly falling backward, but managed to catch herself in time. "I don't wanna go back to that ... old ... hotel," she slurred and reached up to press both hands onto his face almost as if in an attempt to steady herself. Whatever she was trying to do, it didn't come out right. She nearly poked his right eye out with one finger.

"Easy now," he admonished her and pealed her hands off his face. "You're not too steady right now, Aeryn. You need some sleep," he added as she once again fell into him and wrapped her arms around him.

"I love you," she muttered, the syllables all running together. "Where were you? I missed you."

He could tell where this was going and it made him ill at ease. "I've been right here all the time, Aeryn. Now, come on," he tried again and had to peel her right hand off his butt to push her back a little. "Aeryn! I need you to pay attention to what I'm saying now, okay?"

Before he could make another move, she had her hands on his face again and was leaning very close to him. Well aware that she wouldn't be doing this if she was 'sober', he pushed her out at arm's length. "You need to sleep, Aeryn. I'll carry you back to the hotel if I have to," he warned her.

That had no noticeable effect on her. "You have not been here all the time," she stated, her voice unsteady. "You died on me." Her expression crumbled and she started crying quietly as she slipped against him again and wrapped her arms tightly around him. "I lost you."

Feeling pretty emotional himself, John briefly closed his eyes and wrapped his arms around her in turn. "Aeryn," he whispered soothingly, hoping to get her out of this funk without making the doctor too curious. "I'm right here," he said a little louder. "Aren't I?"

She nodded, but said nothing, only held onto him for dear life, and he couldn't help wishing that it was him and not the other one she missed. But it wasn't, and there was nothing he could do about it.

John glanced over one shoulder and gave the doctor an almost apologetic smile. "Emotional," he stated and decided that the only way he would be able to get her out of here would be the same way he had brought her in. Without further hesitation, he scooped her up in his arms and was relieved that she made no fuss. Instead, she wrapped her arms around his neck and hid her face against his shoulder.

"She'll probably sleep through the night," the doctor said with an understanding smile. "You've had some close calls, huh?"

"You could say that," John agreed reluctantly and headed toward the door. "We'll be back in the morning," he added and left, hoping to avoid any further involvement with this particular doctor. Understandably, he wasn't too keen on other Sebaceans. They generally proved to be more trouble than they were worth.

***