Chapter 8

Linea

The bar was overcrowded with every imaginable species and John hesitated a little before stepping into the dim interior. With Aeryn safely tucked away at the med facility, where she was literally watching little Leslie grow, he had spent the better part of a week prowling the bars of Linea's capital, searching for someone, anyone, who might have a clue about Furlow's whereabouts. He had to admit that he was tiring of the search already, but also knew that giving up was out of the question.

The thing he hadn't told Aeryn and wasn't going to tell her was that opening a wormhole was one thing. That gadget wasn't the problem. Well, it was, but it wasn't the whole problem. It was the destination of the wormhole that he had no idea how to figure out. Sure, once the gadget was built, he would be able to create wormholes with his module. The only thing he didn't know how to do was calculate the direction. He figured the knowledge to do that would open up once he started building the gadget, but so far, he had no idea. And, the most prominent thing on his mind was the fact that even if he could calculate the direction, he had no idea where Moya had gone. It could be anywhere in the universe. Hell, it could be outside the universe or even another dimension.

But that didn't stop him from trying to find the answers. In every sense of the word, he was pigheaded about his goals in life and this was no different.

When he finally stepped into the bar, he glanced around for pilots. There were tons of them on this world, coming and going all the time, and he wondered if Linea wasn't actually just a stopover on a trade route or something. Not that it really mattered, of course.

Taking a seat at the bar next to a Sebacean-looking male, he ordered a Fellip nectar and glanced at the old-timer. "Come here often?" he asked conversationally.

"It happens," the old-timer replied without looking at him. "You?"

"Been here for a bit," John confessed and took a sip of the nectar.

Silence erupted between them while John stared down into his drink, thinking his own private thoughts about what he was doing and how he was going about it. The old-timer stared ahead of himself with a vague smile on his lips. His nearly white eyes and tanned skin reminded John of the people on Sykara.

"Why are you staying on Linea?" the old-timer suddenly asked and glanced at John. "There's nothing here. I've always wondered why anybody would choose to live here."

John smiled a little wistfully. "I'm looking for someone," he said.

The old man arched an eyebrow and seemingly studied himself in the mirror behind the bar. That was another curiosity John couldn't help grinning at. To have mirrors behind bars seemed to be a universal constant. "You're a Peacekeeper?" the old man asked.

John was quick to shake his head. "No-ho, not me," he disagreed. "I'm just looking for this tech. She's frelling difficult to track down, though."

"She owe you currency?" the old-timer asked with a grin.

"Nah, it's more of a botched-up repair job I want her to either redo or refund. You know?" John replied. He was getting very accomplished at making up stories.

The old-timer chuckled delightedly. "Sounds like Furlow," he said and took another sip of his odd-smelling drink.

John frowned and turned a little on his chair to face the old man. "It is Furlow," he replied quietly. "Do you know where she is right now?"

Again, the old-timer chuckled and glanced at John. "Sure I do. That renki doesn't stray too far from Dam-Ba-Da. She's hiding out on Chu-ka-na, the next world over. You can't miss her."

John grinned. "Great! Maybe now I can get my frelling engine fixed so it doesn't leak fuel any more. Thanks. I owe you one," he said. "Let me pay for your drink here," he added.

"No need. It's paid already. And it's reward enough to know someone's gonna kick that renki's eema," the old-timer said with another grin.

"You can bet your eema on that," John replied with a good-natured smile, took another sip of his nectar and rose. "Well, no sense in wasting time," he added and left the bar again. It was always nice when something panned out; especially when it did so in his favor.

***

The med facility

Aeryn stood by the window at the far end of the hatchery and stared out at the city while she tried to come to terms with how she felt about everything. So much had happened, so many events that had changed her life, her view on things, her very essence. Or maybe she'd had all this inside her all along. Maybe she and others like her hadn't been meant to go around hiding their feelings.

She smiled a little harshly at the thought and at her distorted reflection in the windowpane. What did it matter what was meant to be? The only thing that mattered was the here and now. The past was gone, over and done with, the future was uncertain, but it was hers to mold; hers and John's. Somehow, that thought was comforting. What had been lost was now found; what had died, had been revived. Somewhere deep inside herself, she had found the ability for hope, for the belief that things would turn out right. On that account, she wasn't too worried about the others. They were probably doing fine, wherever they were. It didn't mean of course that the two of them should give up their search for them. As far as she knew, Moya had not developed the ability to create wormholes and that meant that Moya and the others with her might need some help to get back.

Her train of thought was interrupted when the door to the hatchery opened behind her. She turned around to face John, who strode toward her purposefully, which to her meant that he had found what he was looking for.

"I got the first, solid lead," he said and came to a stop in front of her. "Some old-timer told me Furlow is hiding on the next world over. Chu-ka-na."

"Then go. Find her. Get the specs," she replied instantly, fully aware of how stubborn he was about leaving her behind.

"I can't leave you here," he argued, proving her right.

"Yes, you can," she replied. "You won't be gone long, John. Take the prowler and go." The expression on his face was enough to tell her that he wasn't going willingly.

"I'm not sure about this," he confessed.

"But I am. If you don't go now, she may leave. And we need the specs if we're going to find the others," she argued, trying to make him understand the importance of this. "You do want to find them, don't you?"

"Of course I do, Aeryn, but ..."

"Stop stalling," she said sternly. "It's not like I'm going anywhere."

He pursed his lips in a display of uncertainty and she almost closed her eyes at the sight. It would take some time before she got entirely used to having him with her, to being this close to him.

"I guess Butch rides alone today, huh?" he asked and grinned weakly at her.

"One of these days, John, you are going to have to tell me who Butch and Sundance are," she replied, unable to keep a smile at bay. "I do not like being compared to someone I don't know."

Hesitant as ever since her return, he looked like he was about to say something; that thoughtful look in his eyes as he traced the pad of his thumb over his lower lip. Almost subconsciously, she realized he was about to ask a question she might not want to answer and to stop him, she reached up to cup a hand against his cheek.

"Go, John. Don't waste any time. We need those specs," she insisted. One day, when she felt more confident and together, she would ask him what he had been about to say, but right now, she couldn't stomach any questions about the other one. Not now. Not yet.

With a nod, he wrapped a hand over hers and briefly pressed her palm against his cheek. "Right. I'll be back as soon as I can," he promised and took a step back. "With the specs," he added, turned and hurried out.

Aeryn stared at the door for a moment after it had closed, her eyes dark. Then she sighed and walked back over to the artificial womb and settled down on the chair. Staring in at the tiny creature floating in the transparent liquid, she couldn't help a sad smile from slipping over her lips. If only the other him had known, she thought and shook her head in silent denial.

***

Chu-ka-na

Chu-ka-na wasn't much different from Linea except that it was more arid and poorer to look at. There were ramshackle buildings along the edge of the spaceport city and further in, tall, dirty buildings rose toward a constantly overcast sky. The air had a bitter taste to it and the rain, if it hit exposed skin, stung lightly. It was highly acidic.

John figured that staying here for too long wouldn't be good for him, but he also realized that finding Furlow might prove to be more of a problem than he had thought. The entrance to the city was dirty, muddy and nearly impassable, but all types of aliens were going in and out all the time anyway. He made a face and glanced back at the prowler while wondering if it was secure where he had left it. Landing on Chu-ka-na was free, which couldn't be said for Linea, and that naturally left something to be desired when it came to security.

He decided that he'd better be in and out of this place as fast as his timetable allowed for, which meant he might have to get ugly to get the information he was after. With slight distaste, he started forward and was soon slushing through the ankle-deep mud of the entrance to the city beyond. Dark, dank, covered alleys dripping with moisture led away in either direction along the perimeter of the city. If Furlow was indeed on this world, she would probably be hiding in this section of the city. John couldn't see her hanging out in the more posh uptown area, which John assumed was that part of the city which had the towering buildings.

Glancing around he caught sight of a small alien who looked much like Rygel and he approached the nearly gray-skinned Hynerian, which turned out to be a female. "Hey, you," he tried, hoping she wouldn't run away, mistaking him for a Peacekeeper.

The Hynerian female looked up and blinked a few times. "I don't get too many Sebacean males," she cooed.

Throwing up both hands and taking a step back, John found it hard not to grimace. "Whoa, little lady," he exclaimed. "This is not a come-on, okay? I just want to ask you a question."

Her eyebrows drooped and her mouth got that downward turn that always indicated Rygel's displeasure and John was actually quite happy that he'd met Rygel now. At least he had learned to read Hynerians fairly well. "Information will cost you," she said sourly.

"Fine, no problem. I've got currency," he said and fished a handful of cretmars out of one pocket. The Hynerian female eagerly reached for it, but he caught her hand before she could make a grab for them. "Information first," he admonished her. "I'm looking for a big chick named Furlow. She's a tech hiding out here somewhere. It's very important that I find her and that you keep your wackethole shut about it, okay?" With her eyes never leaving the currency in his hand, she nodded eagerly. "Do you know where she is?" he asked.

"Yes," the female replied and made a waving gesture down the opposite alleyway. "Down there, four buildings in. She's got security on the door," she added.

"Thank you," John said and handed her half of the cretmars he had in his hand. "Is she there now?" he asked on and had to push the eager little creature back when she lunged for the rest of the currency.

"No," she replied with dissatisfaction. "She comes back around nightfall," she added and glanced up at the sky. "Soon. An arn or two."

"Good," John said and gave her the rest of the cretmars. "Thanks for your help," he added and pulled back. The little creature was too occupied with admiring the currency in her hands while she turned and quickly padded away to even bother responding. "Greedy little buggers," John muttered under his breath, turned and walked quickly over to the opposite alleyway.

He came to a stop at the mouth of the alley and raised a hand to cover his mouth and nose at the smell that wafted out at him. Pungent was too mild a word for it. Taking a deep breath, he started down the alley until he found the building the female Hynerian had indicated. The security on the door was probably pretty advanced for this world, but it wasn't anything John couldn't crack. He quickly opened the door and slipped inside after making sure nobody was watching him. It took him only a moment to realize that this was definitely Furlow's place. He recognized the odd assortment of gadgets he had seen on Dam-Ba-Da, none of which he could name. Okay, so this could be any tech's place, but he would bet good money on that it was Furlow's.

He withdrew to the rear of the gloomy one-room building and hunkered down to wait for the chubby tech to return from wherever she had been all day.

***

After leaving Dam-ba-da, which had served as her home for so long, Furlow had to admit to herself that she'd had second thoughts about the whole sordid mess. There was no doubt in her mind that John Crichton had bought it, with him wanting to be the hero and all, and she felt sorry for him. But she felt even more sorry for herself. With her narrow escape from that dustball, she had frelled over the Charrids and the Scarrans both and having two such ruthless races on her tracks made her sweat. There wasn't much she could do about it other than run and try her best to find a place where they wouldn't find her. So far, she'd had no luck and it was really starting to bother her. Here she had the answer to her prayers, the blueprints for that frelling phase stabilizer, and she didn't even have the chance to stop and build one.

Muttering under her breath, she returned to her temporary lair with a few of the components she would eventually use, but for now, she would have to settle only for the smaller of them. That was all she could carry when she had to run.

She pushed the door open with her boot and balanced two bags while trying to make sure nobody had followed her. Once inside, she shoved the door shut and leaned back against it with a sigh of relief. It had been a hard day to get through and she wasn't entirely certain she wanted to be here for much longer.

"Tough day?"

That voice startled her so much that she dropped both bags and she heard the distinct sound of shattering matter, which made her flinch even more. Now she would have to go out and find those components again, she thought, as she fumbled for her pistol.

"Don't bother."

She looked up and came face to face with the muzzle of a familiar-looking pulse pistol. Swallowing hard, she tried to pry her eyes away from the black opening to the man holding the gun, but that didn't make her feel much better. "What the frell?" she burst out and stumbled back a step, banging into the door again. "You're dead!"

John Crichton's aim never wavered, nor did his relentless gaze. "Am I?" he asked with a cold smile. "Then I guess you're being held up by a ghost."

Furlow shook her head in denial. There wasn't much in this galaxy that could get to her, but seeing a man who was supposed to be dead rattled her. "I don't believe in ghosts," she said, not sure if she could lay claim to that anymore.

"No?" he asked and arched an eyebrow. "Well, then I guess I'm still around," he added. "Furlow, Furlow, you screwed me over. Big time." He sounded almost jovial, as if it was all a big joke, but Furlow just had to look into his eyes to see the serious intent behind his words.

"Now, come on, Johnny. We're all friends here, aren't we? You know why I did what I did. A woman's gotta live," she tried, raising her hands in a deprecating gesture.

He chuckled joylessly, his aim still firm. "You lied like a dog, Furlow," he said, emphasizing each word. "Just ... give me one good reason why I shouldn't put a hole in your head right now and end this discussion before it even begins."

Nervous to the extreme, Furlow glanced either way in search of something she could use to defend herself with. The last time she had met him, he'd looked a little worse for wear than the first time, but he hadn't looked this crazy. There was something in his eyes that really made her want to run away and she knew beyond a doubt that he would kill her if she didn't stall him somehow. "If you think back to our last meeting ... Johnny, I never meant to get you in trouble. You know that. I like you. We could be partners."

John just eyed her for a moment, his expression never changing. "And you think that little speech of yours will stop me from blowing your brains out?" he asked almost casually, making her even more anxious than before. "Look, Furlow, I've got a reason for being here and it isn't your fetching personality," he added. "Last time we met, you gave me a run for my money, figuratively speaking. I do not like it when people lie to me. I never have and I never will. And you lied your ass off."

"I explained things to you back then, John. I thought you understood," she replied.

"You set me up. You set all of us up. Aeryn, Rygel, even Crais. I didn't like you the first time we met and I like you even less now. So, what do you say we cut the crap and get down to business, huh?" he said. His eyes narrowed and she thought she saw his trigger finger twitch.

"I've still got the specs," she tried, nodding toward her worktable at the other end of the gloomy room, hoping it would buy her some time. "I've been trying to find a place to settle down so I could rebuild it, but I haven't had much luck yet."

To her great regret, he didn't even glance in that direction. "Well, Furlow, that's why I'm here. I know you have the specs for my module and ... since an unfortunate incident has robbed me of the original ... I figured you'd still have the specs, so all I had to do was find you and get them back from you. And here you are."

She smiled tentatively, hoping somehow to put him at ease, but it was obvious to her that this guy had lost it. He was dangerous now. "Johnny, you have to understand what I'm going through here. The Charrids, they're on my tail. And so are the Scarrans. For want of a better word, they think I frelled them over and they want the information I should have given them in the first place. Now, if I could be certain that they wouldn't vaporize me the microt I gave them what they're after they would have it already, but those specs, they're my life insurance. You understand that, don't you?"

"What you're going through?" he asked, a puzzled look on his face. "You think I care what you're going through?" With a shake of the head, he pulled a second pulse pistol identical to the first and aimed that at her as well. "I should put you down like so much diseased cattle, Furlow, but not until I get what I came for," he added and smiled knowingly. "Looks like I beat the Scarrans and the Charrids to it, huh?"

"Can't we make a deal here?" she asked. "I could copy the specs for you and then we'd both have something worth our while. I like you, Johnny-boy, and I figure you're the forgiving kind. So, what do you say? Do we have a deal?"

He seemed to mull it over for a moment, a frown furrowing his brow while he tapped the muzzle of one gun against his temple. "Hm," he said, his eyes narrowing a little. "Nope. I don't make deals with anybody these days. They tend to backfire. Besides, you're better off if you don't have those plans on you, Furlow." Aiming both guns at her again, he chuckled a little and to her he sounded as mad as he looked. "As for me being the forgiving kind ... that was before you tried to screw me over and fry me with radiation. I don't take it lightly when people try to kill me, Furlow." His expression turned from the slightly bemused, somewhat mad one to a cold, calculating one and at that moment she thought he looked like a Peacekeeper. "Give me the specs. Now!" he added.

"And what if I don't have them here?" she asked, trying to stall him. She didn't know for what. He seemed rather adamant about those specs and she didn't really doubt that he would shoot if she didn't come up with them soon.

His expression didn't change, but he did lower his aim a little. For a moment, he thought it over, but then he gave her a bright smile. "Then I'm just going to have to torture you until you tell me where they are," he said cheerfully, but then his expression turned thoughtful. "Or maybe I should just leave that up to Aeryn. She so wants to blow your head off," he added. "The radiation and all was your fault, after all. If you hadn't stolen the damn device ..." He trailed off, still looking rather thoughtful.

Furlow started to suspect that there was something strange going on. He spoke as if he had been hit by the radiation, which she knew for certain would have killed him. Frowning, she took a hesitant step closer. "You got hit ... by the radiation ... didn't you?" she asked, fishing for something he couldn't know if that had happened.

John frowned at her and gave her a half-shrug. "Yeah," he agreed. "So what? That doesn't change the fact that I'm here, does it?"

She had to agree that it didn't, but she also knew how powerful the radiation from that device had been. It sure had been powerful enough to pulverize him where he had stood. "Who are you?" she asked, frowning.

That made him grin. It was that mad, jovial grin again and it unnerved her to no end. "I'm John Crichton," he replied and winked at her. "The one and only."

"If he was hit by that radiation on Dam-Ba-Da then you're not him," she claimed while she eyed him in the gloomy light of the room. He looked like John. He even talked like John.

When she made a move to step closer still, he raised both pulse pistols again and aimed them at her head. "Nah-ah, not a step closer, chica," he warned her. "I think it's safe to say that I don't trust you any further than I can throw you right around now."

"I don't have the specs here," she said. "If you're really John Crichton, you'll believe that." It was a ruse; a bad one, she had to admit, but still a ruse. If he went for it, he wasn't who he claimed to be.

"Oh, I think I know you well enough to know that you would never let them out of your reach for long, Furlow. Which therefore suggests that you have them on you. Now, come on. Hand'em over," he said, waving one gun. "Oh, and if you double-cross me in any way, Furlow, I'm going to hunt you down and kill you. The Scarrans and the Charrids will look good by comparison."

That tone in his voice convinced her that he meant business. This wasn't the same man she had met before. Something had happened to him since then and it had pushed him over the edge. "All right, all right. Just ... take it easy with those guns, okay?" she said, reached into her extensive overalls and pulled out the little folder with the specs she kept there at all times. "You know that you're killing me by taking these specs, don't you?" she asked, hoping he still had some small measure of compassion left.

He holstered one gun and grabbed the folder she handed to him. "Tough noogies, cookie," he replied and flipped the folder open. He glanced over the specs while keeping half an eye on Furlow at the same time and then, satisfied that he had what he needed, stuffed the folder into his coat. "Oh, and one more thing. If you still have my tape recorder and those tapes ... hand 'em over. I'm starting to feel really attached to the things I brought from home, seeing as I can never go back there, so I want 'em back."

Furlow edged past him to the workbench, pulled out a small box where she had stored the recorder and the tapes and handed it over with a tense expression. She hadn't gotten this far in the galaxy without knowing when to back down and she could tell that this guy was going to put a pretty big hole in her if she didn't do as he said. Her motto was still the same: Run away to live another day. Without the specs, she wouldn't be able to do anything about developing this weapon she had been dreaming about. And without the weapon, she was in no position to bargain with anybody. And that left her with only one way out. She had to find another place and set up shop as a mechanic again. "You know, Johnny, as I told you back on Dam-Ba-Da, it's no good playing the hero. Being the hero gets you killed. You can't save the whole universe. Why not get the best out of it instead?"

His eyes narrowed a little and for a moment she could swear he had no idea what she was talking about, but then he grinned, that boyish grin that she found so cute, and took a step back. "Whatever it takes, Furlow, eh?" he asked, confusing her since she had no idea what he meant by that. "I am getting the best out of it and I'm not a hero for the whole universe any more. I've narrowed the scale down a bit." Glancing into the box, he made sure everything was there, and then gave her a grin. "Well, Furlow, it's been something else," he said. "I do hope our paths never cross again. And if they do, you better hope it's not because I'm after your hide." With that, he tipped the gun to his temple and backed out the door, never once turning his back on her.

Furlow frowned a little after the door had closed, still not entirely sure that man had been who he claimed to be, but then she let out a sigh and started packing. Time to relocate.

***