Chapter 7

Linea

With the knowledge of how close they had come to a resounding and probably permanent breakup, John had opted to keep his mouth shut for the time being. Aeryn had followed his advice and had gone back to bed, and upon a rather vague hint from her, he had joined her. She was asleep again, had been so for a few hours, and he hoped she felt better when she woke up again. He attributed the majority of her distress to the drug and the after-effects of the stress she had been under lately, but he also figured that she had finally been able to give vent to how she felt about the whole mess.

He didn't have to be a genius to know how losing the other John had affected her. He couldn't even begin to imagine what he would have done if there had been two of her and the one who had given in to him had died. It was a mind-boggling thought and he knew the pain of watching her die. She had died on him once before and it had left him empty and hollow, even though he hadn't even had a chance to adjust to the idea. She had been back before he had really registered that she was gone.

Spooned against her as he was, he enjoyed the closeness they shared and hoped it would last. There was no guarantee that she would still feel the need for his closeness when she woke up again and the drug was out of her system. He had hope, though, since she held onto his hand even in sleep. Whenever he made the slightest attempt to move it, her fingers closed more tightly around it, locking him in place.

"I love you," he whispered, hoping her subconscious mind caught that one and put it to good use. He smiled a little at the mental image that produced and shifted slightly.

"Love you too," she muttered back and curled her fingers around his even tighter.

The fact that she responded to him even in her sleep made his hope for a better tomorrow rise another nudge. "Are you awake?" he asked quietly.

"Hmm," she replied. "Almost."

Resting his head against her, cheek to cheek, he pulled her closer, wrapping his arms around her more tightly. "How're you doing?" he asked.

"Don't know yet," she said quietly. "I want to see the child," she added.

"Of course you do," he agreed. "We'll go there together ... when we've eaten something."

***

A light hum and softly flickering light filtered through liquid filled the room with an almost surreal atmosphere. Aeryn sat on a chair, her coat hanging over the back of it, next to the artificial womb, her eyes on the being floating in the liquid. She had no words for how this made her feel, had no way of describing it, so she didn't try. All she did was sit and watch this tiny being, which was a part of her and a part of John. The thought of him made her send a look over one shoulder to the other end of the room, past five other artificial wombs lined up in this hatchery, to where John was standing by one of the windows, staring out at this city they had ended up in.

She knew he still wasn't happy about this, about the baby, and she still did not understand how he could distinguish between himself and the other him. Well, there was a difference in their experience, of course. He hadn't experienced the slow breakdown of her defenses and her final surrender. Nor had he experienced the feeling of belonging she was sure the other version of him had shared with her. The loss of him ... it was something she would never forget and never truly get over, but contrary to her previous beliefs, having this version of him close to her wasn't painful, it was balm on an open wound. He glanced in her direction and caught her looking at him and gave her a quirky little smile.

She smiled back and returned her attention to the child. It had occurred to her that she had wasted far too much time being afraid of losing him. Instead, she figured it might be an idea to focus on the time they could spend together.

His hands slipped onto her shoulders and she reached up to cover his left hand with hers. He had come a long way since he had arrived in the Uncharted Territories three cycles ago and most of it was good. Some of it wasn't, but that was to be expected. Tilting her head back a little, she allowed herself to relish the closeness.

"Aeryn," he said, his grip on her shoulders tightening a little. "I had a little chat with the Doc."

She feared she knew what came next and it made her apprehensive. She didn't want to know what that arn-long conversation between John and the doctor had been about. "And?" she asked, somehow hoping he wouldn't tell her.

"Well, he mentioned ... payment," he said quietly. "Apparently, this kind of service isn't free."

"Of course not. This is not a Peacekeeper facility," she replied and tightened her grip on his hand. "Of course, if it was I would never see her again. Or you," she added and closed her eyes at that idea. It had been her life and now she considered it cruel and cold. How could a person change so much over the course of three cycles? Was that what they meant by irreversibly contaminated? New ideas were bad among Peacekeepers. Especially ideas that made soldiers soft. She understood that completely, but she didn't believe in it any more.

"True," he agreed. "He seems to be pretty understanding of our situation and offered us a deal. Apparently, this sort of thing isn't cheap and he's willing cut a lot of the extra costs to make it easier on us."

One thing she noticed throughout all this was his continued use of the word 'us'. He wasn't talking about her alone, he was including himself in these calculations even though he didn't have to. "How much will it be?" she asked and leaned her head back to glance up at him.

He made a face. "Two thousand cretmars. He claims it's cheap," he said and looked down at her with a slight frown furrowing his brow.

"That's almost all our currency," she said and again returned her attention to the child.

"Yeah, I know," he agreed. "He said the standing rate is twenty thousand, so I figure that's quite a cutback. And he doesn't want the payment now. He said it's sufficient if we pay when the baby is ready to be 'hatched'."

"He said hatched?" she asked and glanced back up at him. "It makes it sound like she comes out of a shell." With a frown, she looked back over at the bubble containing her child. "Which, in a sense, she does," she added.

"Great," John replied. "We'll call her Eggbert." His voice was dripping with sarcasm and when she glanced up at him, he gave her a smile. "Just kidding."

"Eggbert?" she asked. "That is a frelling stupid name."

He arched an eyebrow, but couldn't help grinning either. "Yeah, I guess it is," he agreed.

"I like the first choice better," she went on and looked over at the baby again. "Les-lee," she added.

John hunkered down behind her, his hands still on her shoulders, and rested his chin on top of her right shoulder. "You really want to name her after my mother?" he asked.

She nodded. "Yes," she agreed. "It's a good name. It has ... strength. Was your mother anything like that?"

He was quiet for a bit, just crouching behind her. Then he sighed. "Hell yeah. She was tougher than anyone I've ever known. Tougher than you even. And you're a hard act to follow."

There was admiration in his voice, both for his mother and for her, and she appreciated the sentiment. "Then Les-lee it is," she said. "It's a good name. A proud name."

"My mom would have loved that," he said and rose again. "She would have loved you."

Aeryn glanced up at him again, seeing a hint of tears in his eyes. "Would she?" she asked, wondering what it would have been like to meet his mother.

"Yeah, without a doubt. For your strength, your stamina, and most of all for the fact that you've saved my ass more times than I care to remember," he replied, still smiling a little sadly.

That actually incited her to smile. "Well, I think you've returned the favor," she said. "We'll find the currency. Somehow. Even if it means we have to knock over another shadow depository," she added smirked at his expression.

Leaning over her, he pressed a kiss onto the top of her head. "You are fahrbot, Aeryn Sun."

***

On Earth

With initial introductions over, Rygel had also been invited to join them and had, gracefully, accepted after D'Argo had given those frelling humans a hand in breaching the polluted atmosphere of Earth by showing them how to boost the signal needed to communicate with Moya. It took a lot of boost, but D=Argo was nothing if not resourceful. He had volunteered to go back to Moya to pick up Rygel and had taken Derek along for the ride to give the man a taste of what it was like to fly through space.

Despite the fact that Derek didn't understand D'Argo, he had, through Jool's continued effort, realized that Derek at least understood things like nodding and a shake of the head, a smile or a disgruntled growl without nearly having a heart attack.

It made D'Argo grin somewhat viciously. He clearly remembered his first encounter with John and couldn't help liking the power that lay in the ability to frighten others. Derek, however, seemed to have gotten over the initial intimidation and responded much more like John did now.

With a glance at his passenger, D'Argo tried in vain to understand this odd fascination that humans had with space. He knew he wasn't seeing the whole picture because his own race had been space travelers for far longer than humans had probably existed, but it still made him frown a little when he thought about it.

When Moya came into view, still hiding behind the gas giant, Derek let out a whistle. "Wow!" he said, awestruck. "That's big."

D'Argo nodded and grumbled something under his breath about human's being impressed by anything, which of course meant nothing to Derek.

"Pilot, we're coming in," he announced and gave Derek a thumbs-up with a big smile. The man seemed to understand that gesture just fine and smiled back, even though his smile was a little shaky.

"Very well, Ka D'Argo," Pilot replied. "You are not alone?" he asked as if on second thought.

"No, I am not," D'Argo replied. "I have brought a human with me. He wanted to experience space."

"I ... see," Pilot replied somewhat hesitantly.

"Do not worry, Pilot. None of these humans are dangerous. As a matter of fact, they have received us with open arms. To them, we are superior in every sense," D'Argo said, no small amount of satisfaction in his voice.

"Does he ... understand you?" Pilot asked.

"No, not at all," D'Argo replied.

"Perhaps ... we should offer him the option?" Pilot suggested.

D'Argo hadn't thought about that previously and at first thought it was a ridiculous idea. Then he glanced at Derek, who looked utterly lost, and reconsidered. "Yes, Pilot, that is a good idea. We just have no way of offering it to him in a way that will make him understand."

"Well, neither did Commander Crichton, if you remember. But we gave him the option anyway," Pilot reminded him.

"We shall see," D'Argo said and guided his ship into the landing bay. "It would improve things if we had someone who could understand us," he added thoughtfully. "Have a DRD stand by. Just in case."

"Very well," Pilot replied.

***

The microt the ship settled, D'Argo got up and waved Derek with him. He was not going to let this opportunity pass him by to find someone to communicate with on that frelling world and Derek seemed to fit the bill in his opinion. The man seemed fahrbot about space in much the same way that John had when he had first joined them and that made it an open and shut case for D'Argo.

Derek followed him somewhat tentatively, his whole demeanor that of a wide-eyed mooka and D'Argo snorted under his breath. These humans seemed to be rather senseless until they got in touch with the real life.

D'Argo led the way and stepped away from his ship, turned around to face Derek and spread out his arms in an encompassing manner to indicate Moya's landing bay. Derek looked on with open-mouthed wonder.

"Pilot, I think it is necessary to introduce this human to our means of understanding," he said with a smile that Derek returned.

"If you think that is wise," Pilot replied, sounding a little dubious.

"Oh, I do," D'Argo agreed. "There is no frelling way that this mooka can understand us otherwise. Jool has learned more of their language in the brief time we have been here than any of them will pick up in a lifetime without translator microbes. At least we will have a decent interpreter to communicate with."

"Very well," Pilot agreed with a quite sigh.

One of the three DRDs in the landing bay rolled up to Derek and twittered conversationally at him. He looked down at it, totally fascinated, until another one injected him with the microbes from the other side. "OW!" he howled and hopped sideways away from it on one foot, his left hand grabbing the side of his left foot. "What the hell was that?" he demanded, a little scared now.

D'Argo watched him for a moment before bothering to respond. He knew it took a microt or two for the microbes to settle. "The only way that we can communicate properly," he then said.

Derek's eyes widened in sheer confusion. "I ... can ... understand you," he stammered, and then glanced down at the DRD that had stung him. "What the hell did you do to me?"

"The DRD injected translator microbes into you. It makes it possible for us to understand each other," D'Argo explained gruffly. "Like civilized beings."

Derek stared at him, a lack of comprehension in his eyes. "Uh ..." he tried and briefly glanced around the landing bay as if the answers were to be found there. "What exactly does that mean?"

D'Argo growled. "Perhaps I was wrong," he grumbled. "Perhaps this does not necessarily make you understand better."

"No, no, I understand you just fine, D'Argo. The thing is ... what does this mean for me?" Derek was quick to say.

"What do you mean?" D'Argo demanded and folded his arms over his chest.

"These ... microbes or whatever ... they do something so I can understand ... any language?" Derek tried to clarify, obviously not too certain about it himself.

"Of course. There are exceptions, but most languages you will now be able to understand," D'Argo replied, and then glanced around the landing bay. "Now, where is that Hynerian slug?" he growled. "Rygel?"

The hum of Rygel's thronesled made D'Argo turn toward the source of the sound as the small Dominar came zipping around the edge of a worktable and brought the sled to a stop while he eyed the newcomer suspiciously. "Is he safe?"

"Of course he is safe," D'Argo snorted. "Now, do you want to see Crichton's homeworld or not?"

"Of course I do," Rygel snorted back, both of them ignoring Derek, who was watching them openmouthed. "Do you think it is such a bliss to be stuck on a psychotic leviathan afraid of her own shadow and her overprotective pilot?"

"Dominar, if I may remind you, the comms are open," Pilot's voice rang from the speakers. "Neither Moya nor myself appreciate your obvious disdain for our presence."

Rygel ducked his head a little. "Yotz," he muttered under his breath. "Uh ... Pilot, I did not mean anything bad by this," he added a little louder, spreading his short arms as wide as they would go.

"You may not consider 'psychotic' bad, your Eminence, but I assure you that Moya and I do," Pilot retorted and cut the connection rather noisily.

"Frelling mudcrawler," D'Argo growled. "Must you alienate everybody with your derisive nature?" Without further ado, he grabbed a hold of the edge of Rygel's sled and propelled him toward his ship. "You first, your Eminence," he snarled, scorn in every word.

"This ... ship," Derek inserted, still looking on in amazement, "it's ... aware?"

"Of course it is aware," D'Argo replied gruffly and waved him back toward the ship, indicating that they should leave again at once. "It is a leviathan," he added and once again felt compelled to show this human what he was made of. "Pilot? We are taking Rygel back with us and will be in touch soon. If you can convince Moya to come closer, do so."

"Yes, Ka D'Argo. I shall try," Pilot replied immediately.

***

Chiana let out her trademark laugh when Derek excitedly told her about his rather short visit to Moya. She was so stuck on this human. He reminded her of Crichton in such a way that it was almost eerie to her, but Chiana was nothing if not opportunistic. The fact that Derek was so overwhelmed by their very presence had made her go for him immediately. That he hadn't understood a word she had said had been of no concern to her. Being who she was, she could easily communicate without words and he hadn't been too adverse to it.

"Is it true that it's alive? I mean ... a living ship? This is so amazing, I can't believe it," Derek babbled on.

"Yeah ... well, you know, leviathans are ... well ... leviathans. And Moya is special," Chiana replied, running her hands hungrily up and down his chest.

Derek grabbed her hands, stopping them in place, still too worked up about the whole thing to pay much attention to what she was doing. "And ... Rygel. I mean, wow. I've never seen anything ... he's ... I mean ... he looks like ..."

"... a frog?" Chiana asked and chuckled delightedly. There was nothing better than a male who was all over the place with excitement. And she had to admit that she had taken a particular liking to humans. There was something starry-eyed about them that raised her temperature to a feverish level.

"Well ... yeah. That's not a nice term, though. I mean, is he cold-blooded? Like a frog?" Derek went on, totally fascinated by the whole deal.

"Nah," Chiana said and eased up against him, pushing him backward a step. "We leave that ... to the Peacekeepers," she added.

"Peacekeepers? Are they some kind of race? Rygel's race. What are they called?" To Chiana's great regret, Derek was far too excited about Rygel to pay attention to her advances.

She wrinkled her nose and eased back a little. "Hynerians," she said, letting her dissatisfaction shine through. Much to her annoyance, he didn't get it, though.

"Hynerians. Wow. This is all so ..." Before he could finish, that twittering gadget in his pocket went off again and he quickly hauled it out and pressed it against his ear. "Derek here." His expression became very serious all of a sudden. "Yes, sir. Right away, sir," he added and returned the gadget to his pocket. Some kind of communicator, Chiana suspected. "Listen, Chiana, I have to go now. I'll be back as soon as I can, okay?"

"Sure. Then we'll pick up where we left off," she cooed and let him go. Dropping down on the chair she had been pushing him toward, she made a face. "Dren," she muttered. "Why the frell are all these humans so hard to convince?"

"Perhaps because they know what you're trying to do," Rygel inserted from somewhere behind her.

Chiana turned on the chair and gave him a dirty look. "Listen, broadmouth, if I were you, I'd get the frell out of here," she suggested. "I want to get to know Derek a little closer."

Rygel hovered over to the windows and took a look outside. The rooms they had been given for the time being were adjoining and there was nothing much Rygel wouldn't do to snoop around. Turning his sled around to face Chiana again, he waggled his eyebrows. "Yes, and I want to get off this frelling rock again," he said. "That doesn't mean I get my wish, now does it?" he added and hovered a little closer. "I should, you know. I am a Dominar after all."

"Yeah, yeah, yeah," Chiana said, waving a dismissive hand at him as she slouched in the chair. "You're a dominar and I'm tinked. What else is new?" she added, but then glanced at him again. "Why are you getting your skivvies in an uproar? I thought you wanted to be down here?"

"At first I did," Rygel confessed and glanced at the door. "But there is something wrong here. I have a bad feeling about this," he continued and returned his attention to Chiana.

Chiana eyed him for a moment. "Aw, now who's tinked?" she asked. "This is a world full of Crichtons. What could possibly go wrong?"

"Exactly! A world full of Crichtons. And you still feel the need to ask what could go wrong?" Rygel replied with a meaningful look. "Ah, I keep forgetting that you weren't there," he added and tsk'ed his way back to the connecting door. "D'Argo will understand. He may be a brutish Luxan, but he at least was there," he muttered and zipped off.

Chiana stared at the doors for a moment, uncertain about what the frell that had meant, but as always, curiosity got the better of her and she slipped out of the chair and hurried after the dominar to find out what was going to happen next.

***

"Jool, I do not want to have this discussion," D'Argo insisted, hands on his hips, while he stared angrily at the now pouting Interion. "For all their civilized behavior, they may still not be that civilized when it comes down to it and going 'to town', as you put it, is not an option. Do I make myself clear?"

Jool gave him a sour look. "Just because you're too alien to go to town, that doesn't mean I can't. I want to have some fun. I haven't had decent fun since forever. And this place is friendly enough," she complained.

"I said no and I mean no," D'Argo said, his tone dark. What was it with those frelling girls and their need to party? He just didn't understand them at times.

"Ka D'Argo," Rygel said as he hovered into the room. "A word, please?"

D'Argo rolled his eyes and sighed heavily. Rygel was always up to something when he took on that formal tone. "What is it now?" he demanded, turning around to face the dominar.

Rygel gave Jool a pointed look and the Interion rushed out of the room to find solace someplace else. Then the small dominar returned his attention to D'Argo. "May I remind you of our less than healthy experience at the hands humans prior to this?"

"What the frell are you talking about?" D'Argo demanded, too annoyed with Jool at the moment to think clearly.

"The 'fake' Earth," Rygel said, raising his eyebrows in a saying manner.

D'Argo was still at a loss and not afraid to show it. Truth be told, he was missing contemporary company more and more. Even though he had always considered John to be of lesser intelligence, he had at least been able to talk to the man. Neither Rygel, nor Jool, nor Chiana were great conversationalists and they all had a fahrbot sense of humor. "What about 'fake' Earth?" he demanded.

"What happened to us there might very well happen to us here," Rygel explained, his tone indicating impatience and a hint of anxiety as well.

D'Argo folded his arms over his chest and gave the Hynerian a withering glare. "There are some very essential differences between then and now already, Rygel. Do I need to point them out to you?" he demanded gruffly.

"Please do," Rygel said, surprising the Luxan somewhat by his almost timid behavior. "I fail to see them."

For a moment, D'Argo considered ending this conversation right here and now, but then reconsidered. "First of all, we were received with open arms, not weapons. Secondly, nobody has locked us up or treated us like enemies. I think that speaks for itself," he said.

"Does it?" Rygel asked. "I do not think so. I have gambled enough in my long life to smell a trap when I see one. And this is a trap, D'Argo. The sooner we leave here, the better."

"Oh, for frell's sake," D'Argo sighed and shook his head. "What the frell is up with the lot of you? Chiana is trying to frell every male she sees, Jool is obsessed with this planet and you're seeing conspiracies in every corner. We are not going to leave until I say so, is that clear? There is no danger here. If they wanted to harm us, they would have tried already."

"Don't be fahrbot, Luxan," Rygel warned. "Open your eyes and see what's happening around you. This ... human, our contact, he keeps running in and out all the time like some kind of renki Peacekeeper wannabe. Doesn't it disturb you that we have no idea what is going on here?"

Before D'Argo could reply to that, the door opened and Derek stepped in. The Luxan only had to take one look at the human to know something was up with him. He seemed nervous and haunted.

"D'Argo," Derek said and quickly closed the door behind him.

"What is it, Derek?" D'Argo asked.

Derek seemed to be searching for the right words while he kept glancing back at the door. "Damn, I wish I knew how to say this without sounding like one of the bad guys," he finally said and sighed. "You and your friends should leave here. Right now. Go back to your ship and forget you ever saw this place. But you need to hurry."

D'Argo was at a loss. "What the frell is going on here?" he demanded.

"I'm afraid my superiors have taken one of your latest actions the wrong way," Derek said, looking sad and upset at once. His expression became even sadder when Chiana and Jool joined them.

"What ... what's going on?" Chiana asked, looking from one to the other.

"Obviously there must be something in the atmosphere of this world that makes everybody go fahrbot," D'Argo growled. "Which of course makes me understand John that much better," he added.

"No, D'Argo, you must listen to me. All of you. It's important. They're going to arrest you. They think you've infected me with some kind of horrible space virus by giving me the translator microbes. You need to leave. Right now. Please," Derek begged, sounding downright scared now.

D'Argo stared at him, at first unwilling to admit that perhaps something could go wrong; mainly because Rygel had been the first to draw attention to it. He would never hear the end of it if he gave in too quickly and he was fed up with Rygel's attitude as it was.

Derek glanced back at the door for a second before looking back up at D'Argo. "Please! You have to leave. They'll be here soon," he begged again.

"Frell," D'Argo growled. He had left his Qualta-blade in his ship after the first day because these people seemed so nice. "All right, we shall go."

"Go?" Jool exclaimed. "We can't leave now. Besides, where would we go? We're in the wrong end of the universe."

"Shut the frell up, Jool," D'Argo hissed angrily. "You heard the man. They are coming to arrest us. All of us."

"Oh, now you believe it?" Rygel muttered with annoyance.

Without further ado, D'Argo grabbed the edge of Rygel's thronesled and propelled him toward the door. "Shut the frell up and get moving. All of you," he snarled. "I do not want to be captured."

The sled banged into the door as it opened and Rygel was pushed out of the way by a platoon of armed men, fronted by one who looked like he was in charge of this outfit. "Everybody freeze," he commanded. "You are all under arrest."

D'Argo snarled angrily, but Derek stepped in his way. "Don't provoke them, D'Argo. They'll shoot to kill," he warned wearily.

Both Chiana and Jool stepped in and grabbed D'Argo's arms, restraining him. "Don't, D'Argo," Chiana pleaded. "How can we escape if you're dead?"

Again, D'Argo snarled, wanting nothing more than to kill the whole lot of them, but he could see the reason behind both Derek's and Chiana's words. "All right," he growled. "But I want an explanation for this."

"What did it say?" the leader of the group asked Derek, his expression tense.

"That he wants an explanation, sir. And I don't blame him. I keep telling you, there's nothing wrong with me, General. They have merely given me the opportunity to understand them," Derek replied, raising both hands to plead with his superior. "You are making a terrible mistake here, sir. They are not here to harm us. Imagine how much we can learn from them, General Johnson."

The general eyed Derek for a moment, but then shook his head. "What have they done? Brainwashed you, boy?" he asked. "You used to be loyal to us. Now you're conspiring with the enemy."

"For pity's sake, sir, they're not the enemy. Don't you think that they would have made their move if they were here to invade us?" Derek's frustration shone through clearly. "Sir, please. Don't do this. You're creating an incident that may not ..." he tried, but the general cut him off.

"Enough," General Johnson snapped. "You are not a strategist. You are a scientist. Step out of our way or be incarcerated with them."

Derek backed down. D'Argo eyed him for a moment, fighting his need to accuse him of cowardice. He believed he could see why Derek was backing down. He couldn't help them if he was locked up with them.

"Derek," Chiana said, attracting his attention. "You ... gotta get us out of this," she begged.

"I'll try. That's all I can promise," he replied and stepped back.

***