Aeryn strode into the cockpit of the yacht and took a brief visual survey of the controls and the installed equipment. There was a palmreader mounted on the control board between the pilot and co-pilot seats, which indicated that this vessel was probably marked for one or two pilots. Essentially, that would mean she could not use it. But Aeryn knew this type of device by heart. She sneered, stepped up to it, dug her fingers under the edge and with a bit of brute force managed to dislodge it from the control board. Another hefty yank and the wires came lose. She threw the device aside, grabbed the exposed wires and started connecting them to their appropriate counterparts also sticking out of the board. When the last two wires connected, the engines roared to life.

She stuffed all the wires into the board, settled down on the pilot's seat and readied the weapons. She didn't bother with the headset. There was nobody on this floating coffin that she wanted to listen or talk to. All she wanted was to get the frell out and she would blow out the bay doors if she had to. With one hand wrapped securely around the control column, she nudged the yacht forward. It rose off its pad and slowly drifted toward the bay doors. They, however, remained closed. She waited for a moment, giving them ample opportunity to let them go, but when nothing happened within a few microts, she decided against being friendly and opened full fire on the doors. It took several assaults before the doors finally gave way and were sucked out into space, confirming her suspicion that they were on either a station or a larger vessel of some sort.

The sudden decompression of the bay literally sucked the yacht out the doors and propelled them into open space. Aeryn pushed the control column forward and the yacht proved to her that she had not been mistaken in the belief that this particular vessel was built for speed as much as comfort. It raced away from what she could now tell was a space station at a speed that nearly reached starburst velocity and it thrilled her to know that no matter how adept the other pilots sure to take pursuit might be, she could outgun and outrun them all.

Once they were safely away, she would have to go over this yacht and find any hidden tracking devices. She was certain there had to be one somewhere and if she was lucky, it was listed somewhere too.

A swarm of modified prowlers and other smaller vessels took up pursuit after a moment and it was instantly clear to her that she had estimated this yacht's abilities correctly. None of them even came close and any shots fired glanced harmlessly off the defense shield. A quick check of the readouts to her left showed her that this vessel had recently been refueled, which left her feeling pretty good about herself even while she felt crappy on account of what those fekkiks back there had already managed to do to her.

She kept the speed at maximum for almost an arn after having blasted out of the station and all the while avoided thinking about John and what condition he might be in at this point. First and foremost, she had to get them out of here. Then she could worry about things she couldn't do anything about until they could land somewhere and recruit someone's help.

Just when she was about to throttle back to a more moderate pace, she heard footsteps behind her. A quick glance over one shoulder told her all she needed to know. John was up and moving. He looked like dren, but he was awake and on his feet.

With a heavy sigh and sweat beading his brow, he sank down on the co-pilot's seat, blinked a few times and then finally glanced at her. "My vision's going bye-bye," he rasped, his voice more hoarse than she had realized before.

"You're just tired," she disagreed.

"And you're not?" he countered and leaned back on the seat, resting his head against the headrest.

"Of course I am, but I'm not resting..." she started, then stopped short at a sharp, stabbing pain in her abdomen. She glanced down at the increasing bulge of her stomach and hissed. "Frell, the last thing I need is a birthing in the middle of all this dren," she growled.

John blinked rapidly and glanced at her belly. "How long was I out?" he asked, his tone telling her that he was confused by something.

"Not long," she said and gently rubbed her stomach with one hand while she throttled their speed back with the other. Then she glanced back at him. "Why?"

John was just staring at her pregnant belly. "You weren't that big before," he claimed and looked up to meet her eyes. "Were you?"

Aeryn stared back at him for a microt, then frowned. "No," she tried, not certain where he was heading with this. "Is something wrong?"

He rubbed the heel of one hand against his temple and briefly closed his eyes. "Not apart from the fact that Human females usually don't grow that fast," he replied.

For a moment, Aeryn considered pursuing this, but then decided against it. Chances were that he was partly delirious and had no idea what he was saying. He looked like dren no matter how she turned and twisted it. "You should go lie down," she said instead.

"I'm not going anywhere," he countered tiredly and finally let his hand drop.

"John, don't be difficult. You're in no condition to sit here," she admonished him and flinched when another stab of pain made her very aware of how close to the end of the birthing cycle she was.

"I'm not being difficult. I can't move." His reply was sluggish, his tone of voice low. One glance at him told her that he was not kidding.

"All right. Just sit there then," she said quietly and reached out to brush her fingertips over his cheek. He managed a ghost of a smile, but kept staring ahead of himself with glassy eyes. His skin was waxen, his breathing shallow and the look in his eyes was distant as if he was staring at something far, far away. Something she could not see.

Seeing him like this made her swallow hard against a sudden and unstoppable surge of emotion. He looked so much like the other John had right before he had died and the thought of losing him again nearly tore her apart inside. With nothing short of impossible willpower, she tore her gaze away from him and stared out through the front viewscreen. She had to be strong now, no matter what happened. Their lives depended on it.


John returned to reality with a jerk. At first he had no idea where he was and when he realized where he was, he had no idea what had come before. He blinked strangely unfocused eyes at the front viewscreen of the yacht while trying to remember exactly what was going on. His body felt numb from the top of his scalp to the tips of his toes.

He glanced down himself and finally managed to focus his eyes. A Peacekeeper uniform? And then it all snapped back into focus. "Shit," he rasped, his voice nothing but a hoarse whisper. One glance to his left told him that Aeryn was gone.

Pregnant. She was pregnant. Very much so. What if she was sick? Or something had happened to the baby? What if those bastards had hurt her after all? What if...

He stopped himself and instead hauled himself out of the seat, intent on finding her and making sure everything was all right. But he never got any further than turning around before his legs gave way beneath him and spilled him to the floor. He barely prevented himself from hitting the hard floor tiles chin first. "Oh, crap," he muttered, pushed himself up on his hands and knees and took a moment to recover. "Aeryn," he tried, but could not force his voice above a somewhat hoarse, rather weak-sounding rasp. "Aeryn," he tried again and struggled back to his feet. He had to grab onto things to walk upright, but if that was what he needed to do, so be it.

On feet that barely obeyed him, he staggered toward the back of the yacht, using backs of chairs, doorframes and walls as support. He tired out very quickly, but knew he had to find her. Although his sense of premonition was never spot on, he did have a feeling that something was wrong. Why else would she leave him alone?

Halfway down the not so long or wide corridor leading away from the cockpit, he came to a stop to rest for a moment, bracing himself frantically against the opposite wall with nothing short of pure willpower. It took all he had to keep upright, but his fear of what might have happened to Aeryn kept him on his feet. He dropped his head, trying desperately to gather enough energy to get a move on, when he heard it. It wasn't much, but it was a life sign, a half-hearted, low-key grunt of sorts. "Aeryn?" he tried again, his voice failing him again as he raised his head and had to fight his wavering vision for a moment before everything once again came back into focus.

That sound had been enough to give him the strength he needed to move on, although it was painfully slow going. He reached a door a bit further on and braced himself against the doorframe for a moment. Then he slapped a hand onto the control and the door slid open.

Admittedly the sight that met him was not the one he had expected. Some part of him had feared they might have a stowaway on board who had managed to overpower Aeryn. Another part had imagined far worse. But this image the opening door revealed to him was one he knew he would never forget. 'Unless someone wipes my brain, of course,' he thought with a grimace and staggered forward.

It appeared to be some kind sleeping quarters. There were bunks built into the walls and a big open space in the middle. Aeryn was hunkered down on the floor on top of what John could only identify as a tarp and she wasn't wearing any clothes. She was as naked as she had been when she had come to his rescue, but she was a hell of a lot more pregnant now than she had been before.

Again he briefly wondered if he had been out for a couple of months. That would certainly explain why he felt so disoriented and weak. But on the other hand he also knew that not much time had passed.

He pushed away from the doorframe and took two staggering steps into the room and that was all he could manage without support. His knees folded under him and he dropped down on them, only barely managing to stay upright for the moment. "Aeryn... what..." he tried, but did not have the energy to speak. But he actually didn't need her to tell him what was going on. She was in labor and there was nothing he could do to help her.

She grimaced, but made no move to reply. All she did was hunker there, stark naked, her hair plastered to her face with sweat, all while she tried to give birth to their child. And all John could do right then was admire her. The comparison to some of the women he'd dated back home popped into his mind again and he couldn't help grinning helplessly.

His back felt like jell-o and he finally gave up the fight to keep it straight and upright and dropped forward onto his hands. His arms supported his weight for a moment longer, and then he let himself sink to the floor.


As instructed cycles ago by the training instructor who had dealt with such issues, Aeryn had followed every step of the preparation to give birth. But, frell, it was hard work. The tarp was spread out to contain whatever fluids would spill out, but also a training mat underneath to cushion the infant. That had not been part of the training, though, but since she was going to have to deliver this child on her own, she considered it a good idea to prevent the coming child from breaking its neck or bruising its head once it came out of her.

She clawed her fingers into the tarp and closed her eyes, letting out a half-hearted grunt. But then something distracted her from focusing on the impending birth. A sound. She opened her eyes and faced the door, which slid aside to admit a very unsteady John. She wanted to say something, to reassure him in some way that she would be all right and that he should lie down somewhere, but she did not have the fortitude to speak right now. All her energies were focused on the birth.

When he literally collapsed in front of her, she still just stared at him. She couldn't help him right now and it ground into her like a physical ache. His head had hit the floor just at the edge of the tarp and he wasn't moving.

Something inside her changed and she rose up a little and redirected her full attention to what came first. The pressure this creature inside her put on her was almost beyond her level of tolerance and she gritted her teeth and breathed deeper, faster. Somehow, the breathing made it more tolerable while she felt her insides being stretched and rearranged by the child.

She balled her hands into fists, pressing folds of the tarp into her palms and closed her eyes, then drew in a couple of deep breaths and put her all into pushing. A microt later, her efforts were rewarded with a wet splash and the immense sense of relief. With no time to spare, she reached to her right, grabbed the sterilized knife lying there and shifted around.

Her first view of the infant, lying curled up on the floor behind her in a pool of blood and liquid, caused her to pause. The placenta had been expelled along with the infant and she could already feel her insides readjusting, her stomach retracting. But the child just lay there, motionless. She grabbed the towel she had laid out for it, wrapped it around the baby, then set about cutting the birth cord after tying it off first. She stuck a finger into the tiny mouth to remove anything obstructing the airways – not something she had learned as a Peacekeeper, because soldiers didn't deal with their infants after they were born – but it was an instinct she followed. And then she rubbed it vigorously with the towel. And that was when it started to move. Its tiny head turned and the arms started working, the tiny hands clenching and unclenching.

She rose to her feet, a little unsteady at first, and laid the wiggling yet quiet infant on one of the bunks before turning her attention to the man lying sprawled on the floor. He was awake, she realized. He was watching her, his eyes bloodshot, a smile on his lips.

For some reason that made her smile in return despite his obvious distress. She padded over to him and hauled him off the floor and over to the bunk that now contained his child. The birthing had both drained her and given her strength at the same time and she found it no feat at all to hoist him up onto the bunk and arrange father and child so neither would fall off.

Then she hunkered down in front of the bunk and ran her fingers through his hair. "Hold on to your child," she said quietly. "I just want to get cleaned up."

He didn't respond, but since he was still watching her, she assumed he understood her. She leaned in and planted a kiss on his brow. "I had heard that a birthing was easier than this," she added and rose to do as she had said.


Once under the spray of the shower, Aeryn allowed herself to feel, to think, finally. They were still running, but were now far away from what they were running from. The child was born and John was still alive. She had to count her blessings.

And as she stood there, she suddenly realized that she had no idea if she had given birth to a girl or a boy. At the time, it had been irrelevant. Cleaning the infant up and getting its father off the floor had been her priority, but now it struck her as being this huge thing that filled her up and expanded her like the infant had done while it had still been inside her.

She blinked through the falling water and looked down at her still expanded belly. It was half the size as it had been right before the birth and it was going to be entirely gone in about an arn or so if her instructor had been correct. She ran a hand over the taut skin and frowned at the emotions suddenly running rampant inside her.

Her child. She had a child, a little life that depended on her and John now. The weight of this knowledge settled on her, but was almost instantly overruled by a strange euphoria that made her smile wistfully. At the same time she felt the odd need to cry. To take her mind off these matters for now, she finished cleaning herself off and stepped back out of the shower to dry herself, get some clothes on and get back to John and the child.


He felt tired on a whole new level. It was almost a mental thing more than it was a physical one. John couldn't really determine what was more prominent. His body was changing, he could feel that, but would this change also affect his mind? He hoped not. So far, it hadn't. He felt on the edge of mortal fatigue most of the time, but he was still pretty clearheaded.

For now, there was no pain and that alone was a relief. But somehow he knew the pain would return. That feeling arose from the constant, low-key tingle in his limbs, a feeling that did not allow him to forget what he had gone through and what might still come. It was a foreboding in a way, a premonition on a physical level.

To take his mind off what might still be ahead, he turned his attention to the infant lying on the cot next to him. It was a miracle, this little tot. He didn't even know if it was a boy or a girl, but it didn't really matter anyway. It looked like any other newborn he had ever seen and it made him wonder how much difference there really was between Humans and Sebaceans. Aeryn and he were compatible. The baby was proof of that. But Aeryn's pregnancy had progressed in a way he had never thought possible. Although he couldn't be completely certain of the time that had passed since that old hag had shown her true colors and they had been capture, he was sure it wasn't nine months. But his senses told him it couldn't be more than a few days and that didn't make a hell of lot of sense either.

Before he could pursue that line of thought, he heard the door to the refresher unit open and Aeryn stepped out, fully dressed, her hair moist. "John," she said and there was that smile on her lips and the glow he had seen on his sister's face when she had been a new mother.

He smiled back at her – at least he hoped he did – and tried to up his stamina to speak.

Aeryn hunkered down next to the cot, the bulk of her stomach almost gone again, and watched him closely for a moment. "How are you feeling?"

"Better," he lied and grimaced. In a sense, it wasn't a lie. He was feeling better. But he knew it wouldn't last.

Her smile was warm and comforting. "If you lie to me, at least try to be convincing," she scolded quietly, then turned her attention to the infant. The baby was sleeping peacefully. She carefully parted the blanket wrapped around it and studied the little body for a moment. When the baby shuddered and stirred, she tugged the blanket around it again. "A boy," she said quietly.

John couldn't help the smile that spread on his lips. A boy. He wouldn't have been unhappy about a girl. Maybe the next one could be a girl. "Everything there?" he asked, his voice husky from too much emotion and too much stress.

"Everything there," Aeryn confirmed and sat on the edge of the bed. "We got away, the child is all right and you're... better. It seems our luck may have turned," she added.

"Don't jinx it," he countered with a halfhearted smile.

"Jinx?" she asked with a slight frown. "What is jinx?"

"Just a saying," he muttered. He was too tired to explain and it didn't matter anyway. Aeryn didn't jinx things. He did. "What do we name him?" He wanted the important things out of the way before the pain returned and he could focus on only that.

"Later," she replied and rose again. "First we must find a medic who can help you. Then we can focus on naming our child."


Aeryn turned, intent on leaving John with the child to do as she had said, but something made her stop and glance back at him. He had gone deadly pale again and his entire body was shivering. The shiver intensified into spasmodic jerks he couldn't control and Aeryn's immediate concern was her son. She ripped the infant away from his father, an act which brought the first sounds from the child, who started mewling like a wounded animal.

The child would have to cry for now. She put him down on the next cot over, then returned her attention to John. He was frothing at the mouth, every muscle in his body obviously responding uncontrollably, and all she could do was rush to his side and hold him down so he didn't hurt himself.

The tendons in his neck were tensed to the breaking point and his color was going from pale to a flushed red to a deep purple. He wasn't breathing while his body convulsed violently underneath her and there was nothing she could do to help him apart from holding on to him. Using her body weight and the added support the cramped walls of the built-in cot were offering her, she forced him down and held on until the convulsions finally abated.

She slowly relaxed along with him, still lying on top of him, and he was sobbing with the agony this had put him through. She grabbed a snip of the sheet under him and used it to dry his face, which was slick with sweat and saliva. "Shhh," she shushed him and gently ran her fingers over his lips. "It's over now. Close your eyes. Rest."

He made no move to speak and settled for slipping into an uneasy sleep, drained as he was from the attack, and Aeryn briefly remained where she was while she watched him intently. Then she slid off him and rose back to her feet. Until his condition was under control, he could not be allowed near the child.

The thought of the child brought her attention to the mewling from the next cot and she turned her attention to her son. His face was an angry red, his lids squeezed together with tears leaking out. He looked almost as bad as his father had, except he was breathing. She picked him up and cradled him to her chest, uncertain about how to comfort him. What did the ped-techs do once they took charge of the infants? She had no idea. It had never been her prerogative or her duty to give a frell about infants before.

"There must be a data store on board," she told her still mewling son. "Some kind of guideline on how I treat you."

"Feed him."

The whispered words made her turn her attention to John. He was awake again, eyes barely open. "How?" She stepped over to him and hunkered down to spare him the strain of having to look up at her.

He swallowed weakly. "Breasts," he muttered and drifted off again.

Aeryn frowned, then glanced down herself. Her breasts? The frown deepened while she considered all she knew and all that might be possible. Then she pulled her tank top up and inspected her breast thoughtfully. They appeared fuller somehow. While cradling the infant in one arm, she gingerly touched one breast and arched an eyebrow when white liquid oozed from it.

What had her instructor said about that? Not much, she remembered. Only that once she had given birth, she would get an injection to stop the 'discharge', as the instructor had called it. "Frell," she muttered. Even though it seemed odd to her, she raised the still crying baby up to her breast and without delay, the infant seemed to know what to do. His lips clamped onto her nipple and he started sucking immediately.

Aeryn watched him for a while and wondered how long this would go on. She would have to ask John about that when he woke up again. Concerned for him, she returned her attention to him now that the infant was quiet. That convulsion had almost killed him. If he had another one soon, it would probably kill him.

"Frell this," she muttered again. Now that she knew how to feed her son, she had other priorities that she could carry out at the same time. She needed to find a medic, and fast.


John woke up again and felt utterly disoriented at first. His eyes refused to focus and he felt generally as if he'd been worked over with a baseball bat. Everything ached, every muscle, every joint, every nerve ending. And the fatigue was devastating in its own right.

He'd had mono as a child and it had felt something like this. He closed his lids for a moment, then pried them open again. Slowly, the world around him slipped into focus and he recognized his surroundings. With the recognition came the memory of the bone-crushing convulsion and the thought that this might befall him again made him feel as weak as a newborn child.

With an effort that was almost beyond him, he somehow managed to raise his head and looked around for a second. Then he let his head drop again. Aeryn was nowhere in sight. "Aeryn," he whispered, unable to raise his voice above that level.

There was no reply. Even breathing was a chore at this point, but he still couldn't just lie here and wait. He had never been good at waiting, had always hated it with a passion actually, and – fatigue or no fatigue – this time was no different. If he had to crawl on his damned hands and knees, he had to find out where Aeryn was. There was too much margin for mistakes here and then again the thought of her being injured or something begin wrong with the kid allowed him to tap into hidden strengths he didn't know he possessed.

Groaning with the effort, he rolled onto his side, paused briefly, and then slipped his legs over the edge. His left foot hit the floor with a thud because he couldn't hold it. And yet he kept moving until he fell off the bed and hit the floor hard enough to rattle his jaw. "Shit," he croaked and lay still for a moment. The ache in his body didn't intensify, but it didn't lessen either.

Time ticked by and still the urge to move, to get up and move, was stronger than the fatigue. Slowly, laboriously, he pushed his hands under himself and pushed up, a little at a time. Then he dragged his legs up, got up on his hands and knees, and the effort alone was almost too much.

Yet he forced himself to remain there, to test his strength, his resolve, before he raised his head and squinted at the door. It had never really occurred to him how hard it could be do move when your body didn't obey the rules. In general he felt like he had boulders in his chest, weighing him down, obstructing his lungs from drawing in enough breath to keep him up and moving. But he had to move.

Slowly he started to drag himself forward, one ridiculously short inch at a time. To maintain his energy level at the maximum possible right now, he kept his head down and only occasionally glanced up to make sure he was heading in the right direction. A distance he would normally be able to cross in four long strides in a few seconds flat now took excruciatingly long and drained him to the lowest possible level.

When he finally did reach the door and bumped his head against it, he couldn't help a somewhat crazy chuckle. "Batteries not included," he rasped and raised his head. The door control was out of reach. He would have to get up on his knees to reach it and right now he was fighting to just remain on his hands and knees.

The thought of having to straighten up made him feel almost nauseous, so he took a time out for a few breathless moments before raising his head again and then raising one hand to grab weakly at the doorframe. Even if his fingers had been strong enough to hold his weight right now, he wasn't so sure his arm would be strong enough to drag him upwards. He closed his eyes and paused for a moment, then pressed his lips together and started the feeble, slow climb, one hand over another, to get his back to straighten up. Even his newborn son had more strength than this, he thought and couldn't help another faint chuckle.

His breathing was superficial, barely enough to sustain him, and any effort diminished the oxygen in his blood, driving him step by step closer to fainting. When he finally managed to straighten his back, black dots were dancing in his field of vision, expanding with each labored beat his heart took. He stopped moving, just leaned against the doorframe with both hands and closed his eyes in a vain attempt to perhaps reserve some energy or rebuild some strength. And then he opened his eyes again and found himself face to face with the door opener. He didn't have air enough to chuckle, just managed a faint smile before he let his head drop forward and slammed his brow into the device. The door hissed open and he let himself fall forward, bracing the opening with his body. He needed time to recover, time to regain some of his strength, but he would damned well not go through the ordeal of opening the door again. As long as he stayed on the doorstep, the door couldn't close.

With that thought, darkness claimed him and he lost all sensation of what was going on around him.