Aeryn had finally managed to put her son down after he had fed off her. The infant was asleep on the co-pilot's seat, which was big enough to act as a cradle for him for now, while his mother searched frantically for some kind of reference to where they were and what might be out there that could benefit John.

She hissed an angry curse, then shook her head and went back to work. There was no sense in giving up. That would gain her nothing. She had to find something, someone, out there. There had to be some help. A commerce planet perhaps. Or a medical convoy. She didn't give a frell what it was, as long as it was neutral enough to not cause them trouble the microt they came into view.

It was a struggle, but she would not give up. Not now, not ever. She was not going to lose the man now that she had the child. She wanted both and she felt she frelling well deserved them. So she kept searching, kept exhausting one option after another with the help of the identity beacon search engine this yacht was equipped with.


John came to with a start and once again he was disoriented when he opened his eyes. But this time it was mainly because he didn't immediately remember that he had left the bed and that he was lying half in and half out of the sleeping quarters.

"Aw shit," he muttered halfhearted and pushed himself up on his hands and knees. He still felt as weak as a kitten, but at the same time he had more strength than before and that made him smile vaguely. Maybe that meant he was getting better after all.

With an effort he could just barely overcome, he got up on his feet with the help of the door frame and then just took a second or two to regain his composure. "Wow," he rasped and briefly fought a dizzy spell. But it passed, allowing him to make his way back toward the cockpit on wobbly legs.

He opened the door and pushed himself inside, but that was as far as his strength would go. Aeryn, who was sitting on the pilot's seat, turned around and stared at him with surprise. "What the frell are you doing up?" she asked and rose.

A smile was all he could manage before his legs gave way beneath him. Fortunately, Aeryn was fast enough to catch him before he could hit the floor and she dragged him over to the nearest seat and lowered him into it.

"Why can't you just stay where I leave you?" she asked. It was meant as a rebuke – he could tell by the look in her eyes – but it didn't come out right. She sounded more afraid than angry at this point.

"I missed you," he rasped, his voice barely a whisper.

She brushed her fingers through his hair and eyed him with deep concern in her eyes. "You drannit," she whispered back and pressed a kiss onto his brow.

"Some day you'll have to tell me what that means," he pressed out and gave up on keeping his eyes open. "Man, I'm tired."

"Then rest. I'm searching for help. It takes time," she said, kissed him again and then returned to her seat.


She glanced back at him occasionally, but mainly kept her eyes on the search results until one of them more or less jumped out at her. A commercial tug within reach. She eyed the readouts for a microt, then decided to contact them. She had no idea if they were friendly, but right now she knew she could not be picky. Intent on finding out, she flipped a switch and hailed the commercial tug.

"Commercial tug Baia, please respond. We have a medical emergency. Do you have a medic on board?"

All that answered her at first was static. She listened intently to it, then glanced back at John. He just sat there, head back, eyes closed and seemed to be asleep.

"Commercial tug Baia. Please respond. We have a medical emergency. I repeat. We have a medical emergency," she repeated the message.

"Unnamed yacht. What is your emergency?" the reply came through suddenly.

Aeryn stared at the speaker for a moment, realizing she had no idea what the yacht was identified as, then shrugged and leaned forward. "We need medical assistance immediately," she said, not wanting to put them off by telling them what kind of emergency they would have to deal with.

For a moment, there was no response. Then the voice returned. "How far away are you from our current position?"

Aeryn checked the data. "About half an arn," she replied, then froze when John made an odd sound behind her. She glanced back at him. He was shifting uncomfortably in his seat as if his back was hurting him. "Keep the dockingweb ready. I may not be able to land without aide," she added a little absentmindedly.

"Understood. See you in half an arn," the voice replied and then the connection broke.

Aeryn turned around in her seat. "John?" she asked. She had barely said his name before his eyes snapped open and he sat bolt upright, his expression one of pained surprise.

"Shit," he pressed out through clenched teeth, then jerked forward and fell off the chair. He hit the floor on his hands and knees and arched his back while his breath came in ragged gasps through clenched teeth.

"Frell," Aeryn snapped and pushed off her seat. Just then, it looked very much like his vertebra jumped out of their sockets, all at once. His spine bulged, producing what looked suspiciously like spines for a microt, then they fell again and created ridges instead. It looked much like his spine had taken on a life of its own and it was quite obviously hurting him badly.

Aeryn dropped down on her knees in front of him and grabbed his shoulders. She was uncertain about what to do and was appalled at how tense his shoulders were. His fingers were clawed into the floor beneath his hands and his fingernails had started going black.

Then his strength left him all at once and spilled him onto the floor in an awkward position.

Aeryn struggled for a moment to untangle him from the chairs around him, then rolled him over on his side. "John?" she whispered. He wasn't moving and his face had taken on a very gaunt look. "John," she tried again, a little louder. "Frell," she added and rose to her feet again. She needed two things right now, she surmised and glanced back at her son sleeping peacefully on the co-pilot's seat. A sling to carry the baby in and a blanket for John.

She stepped over him and hurried into the back to find both. Once she had what she needed, she rushed back to the cockpit, arranged the sling and put her son in it. The infant made no move to wake up. Then she draped the blanket over John, grabbed him from behind and hauled him to his feet. To her immediate surprise, he remained standing on his own. His back was hunched, though, and he had a very dull look in his eyes.

She stepped around him, grabbed his face with both hands and tried to gain eye contact. He just stood there, arms hanging limply down his sides, and it was at that point that Aeryn realized that his spine wasn't the only thing that had changed about him. His face looked thinner somehow, the skin was more taunt and he had dark patches under his eyes.

At that moment, the yacht jerked, indicating that the commercial tug had caught them in its docking web. "Not a microt too soon," she muttered under her breath, pulled John's left arm over her shoulder, draped an arm around his back and guided him toward the exit.


The microt they set foot on the commercial tug was the microt Aeryn started to have second thoughts. "What a pile of dren," she muttered as she stopped at the foot of the ramp of the yacht and glanced around. This tug was beyond dirty. It smelled of old lubricants and cycles of dirt. The light was dim, the walls rusty. Cooling fluid was leaking everywhere, adding to the stink.

Most of all she wanted to turn around and fly them right back out of there, but one glance at John's dull eyes made her reconsider. This might not be the nicest tug in the galaxy, but they obviously had a medic and that would have to do for now.

A door at the far end of the bay opened and three male Sebaceans stepped in. Aeryn eyed them for a split microt, then drew her pulse pistol. They did not look like good people in the respect that they appeared to be just as dirty and run-down as their tug. "I need a medic for my mate. Right now," she said sternly, snapping back into old routines immediately because she felt threatened.

One of the males raised his hands, palms out, a clear sign of surrender. The look in his eyes was one of concern and nothing more. "Easy now. We only want to help," he tried to assure her.

"Do you have a medic on board?" she demanded, indifferent to how they appeared.

"Yes, we do," the speaker said and nodded toward the door they had come in through. "There's no need to draw a weapon on us. We are unarmed. We mean you no harm."

Aeryn narrowed her eyes a little while she watched the three of them. Now that she thought about it, she could tell that they did not seem hostile. They appeared more frightened of her than she was of them. "Take us to your medic," she insisted.

"This way," the speaker said and backed up while keeping a weary eye on her weapon.

She decided to holster it again and followed them to the door. There, the two others took John off her hands and dragged him quickly down the corridor. Aeryn followed hot on their heels. The more she saw of this flying junk heap, the less she liked it. But with John's condition being as bad as it was, she didn't dare try for another ship that might help out. He could die before they got that far and she would go far to prevent that from happening.

The males dragged John into the med bay and when Aeryn stepped in after them, she froze to the spot while she looked around. The med bay looked more or less like the landing bay had. Rusty walls, cooling fluid leaking everywhere, lights dim, the smell of rot and decay in the air. And then she laid eyes on the medic. He appeared to be a cross between a Nebari and whatever race Grunshlk belonged to. He was fat with greasy hair and heavy eye goggles nearly obscuring the better part of his face.

"Is that your medic?" she demanded, pointing at him. The speaker nodded. "You have got to be frelling kidding me."

"Am the best in my field," the medic said in a lisping, high-pitched voice. "What is your emergency, I wonder?"

Aeryn felt like leaving right there and then. This had to be a joke. They couldn't be serious.

"He is a first-class medic," the speaker said and stepped closer. "He might not look like much, but he's good at what he does," he added.

Aeryn eyed him for a microt and had to fight against the urge to run from this place. John was in dire need of help and she felt almost certain that they didn't have time to search for another medic.

The two males that had dragged him to the med bay now helped get him up on the examination table. Because of the newly formed ridges on his back he couldn't lie down, so he just sat there, feet dangling, back hunched, eyes dull. If it hadn't been for his progressed transformation, Aeryn would have left at once. But the fear of losing him again was too strong in her. She would rather risk this place than risk him dying on her.

The medic approached him, rubbing his fat, pale hands against each other while he eyed John through the goggles. "What is the matter with this one I wonder?"

The other crew members of the tug decided to make themselves scarce, leaving Aeryn and John alone with that creepy medic. "He is mutating," Aeryn said, hoping that this creature would be able to help despite the apprehension Aeryn felt against him.

The medic glanced at her. "Does she know into what?" he asked and returned his almost slobbering attention to John. "And from what? He is not Sebacean, yes?"

"No, he is not Sebacean. And no, I don't know what he is changing into," she confessed.

"Difficult then. Does she have copy of genetic code? Clean one?" the medic asked and again glanced at her.

Aeryn felt her heart sink. "No," she said.

"Very difficult then," the medic said and made a face behind the large goggles. Then he turned his attention fully toward Aeryn. "She is Sebacean, yes?" he asked and his oversized eyes turned toward the bundle she carried over her left shoulder. "The infant is his?"

"Yes, the baby is his. And yes, I'm Sebacean," she agreed.

"Easier then," the medic said with a content nod. "Tissue sample from infant will solve the riddle," he added.

Aeryn glanced down at her peacefully sleeping son, then back up at this disgusting creature. "What?" she asked, not certain she had understood him correctly.

"Tissue sample from infant will make it easier to restore this one to his former self," the medic elaborated. "Can isolate his genetic coding from infant's tissue."

Aeryn again glanced down at the baby, then over at John who had begun to shudder. He suddenly slapped the back of his left hand up against his brow and groaned in agony. Desperately, Aeryn tried to come up with another way, with some kind of solution that would not involve her child. But then she focused on the medic. "Will it hurt the baby?"

The medic snorted. "No, of course not. Just a little prick and that's it. Nothing big. Be over in no time," he said and waved a pudgy hand at her, before he glanced at John. "But should be soon. This one has not far to go."

Aeryn glanced at John again. He had, in the meantime, dropped his hand again and there was a distinct change in his brow and his face in general. "Frell," she hissed through clenched teeth. Time was running out and she didn't trust this fekkik. "All right," she finally pressed out through clenched teeth. "But if you hurt my child, I will kill you."

The medic raised both hands in a deprecating gesture. "Won't hurt a bit. Might cry a little. Very sensitive to pricks, infants are," he countered.

"All right. Do what you must and be quick about it," she agreed.

"Put infant here," the medic said and patted a clear space on the work table.

Aeryn eyed it and decided to leave her son in the sling. At least that way he was partially protected from the grime on the table surface.

The medic took the baby's right arm, nearly making it disappear in his oversized hand, and inserted a rather large-looking needle into his arm. The baby started wailing at once and Aeryn jerked forward to stop whatever this fekkik was doing to her son, but he retracted the needle at the same time and stepped back from the crying baby. "All done," he cooed and prodded the baby with one finger before placing a small bandage on his arm.

Aeryn was quick to retrieve her son and shrugged into the sling again. "Shhh," she shushed him. "It's all right. No harm done." After a moment, the baby calmed down again and Aeryn glared at the medic. "Now what?"

"One moment," the medic said. He was working on some gadget on the work table, very concentrated.

To pass the time while waiting for whatever the medic was doing, Aeryn slid up beside John and brushed her fingers through his hair. "John?" she whispered.

He blinked sluggishly, then turned his eyes a little. "I don't feel so good," he managed to rasp.

"I know. You'll get help now," she replied in a quiet voice. "You'll be fine."

He couldn't even manage a smile although he did try.


After an arn and another subtle change in John's exterior, the medic finally turned around. He held a syringe in one hand that was filled with a brownish liquid. "All ready," he said with a smile and lumbered over to the examination table. "One prick and all is done." That said, he inserted the hefty-looking needle into John's shoulder and pressed the liquid, that looked mostly like rust-filled water, into his shoulder. Then he massaged the injection site with the ball of his unprotected thumb for a moment. "Would have become half-Scarran if transformation had completed," he said and shuddered visibly.

Aeryn didn't know much about how medics worked in general, but this didn't seem right to her. It was insanitary to the extreme and she couldn't help wondering if she hadn't done John a disfavor by not waiting for a better opportunity. And now he told her that John was turning into a half-Scarran? How much worse could it get? With a sigh, she closed her eyes briefly. She was tired to the bone, wanted nothing more than to sleep, but she knew that her rest period was still a way's off. "How long before it works?" she asked.

"Should work right now. Will reverse changes at same rate," the medic said with that sleazy smile on his fat lips.

"Thank you," Aeryn said and realized how hard she found it to say those words to this creature. "What do I owe you?"

The medic waved a dismissive hand at her. "Nothing, nothing,"he lisped and backed up a few steps. "She has to go now. I have work to do."

Aeryn nodded. She was more than happy to leave. With a bit of coaxing, she got John off the examination table and with heavy support, she got him back out into the corridor where the three crew members were waiting. They helped her back to the yacht, but none of them said anything.

Once she was inside the yacht again, Aeryn dragged John to the sleeping quarters and got him down on the bed. He had to lie on his side for now, but at least he could lie down. Then she put her son down on the other cot and returned to the cockpit to get off this floating corpse of a tug.


To Aeryn's great surprise, the brown concoction that creature had injected into John seemed to work. Once she had set the yacht on autopilot and had returned to the sleeping quarters, she noted instantly that his face no longer looked so gaunt.

But the medic's words turned out to be a two-edged sword, because John was going through the same agony as the transformations reversed and Aeryn had her hands full keeping him steady when he convulsed and when he screamed in agony. She was certain that a more professional medic could have reversed this without the pain or the convulsions, but she was too hung up with watching over him to pay much attention to what ifs. She barely had time to feed her son between the transformations.

Two solardays passed like this and by the end of the second solarday, Aeryn was beginning to feel the effects of too little sleep and too much worry. On the bright side, John's spine had returned to normal. On the darker side, he was delirious most of the time.

Tired to the bone, Aeryn sat on the edge of his cot and watched him with bleary eyes. "John?" she whispered. The fatigue was beginning to wear her thin. She had very little patience now and was in a state of constant depression. Her professionalism was beginning to crack and she no longer had the stamina to carry her son around with her all the time. The infant lay on the next cot most of the time.

John was asleep or unconscious at this point and Aeryn couldn't do anything for him right now. All she could do was try and steal a few arns of rest before the next transformation ripped through him and she would have to spend every waking arn at his side.

Almost too tired to remember her own name, she slipped onto the cot next to her son, draped herself around the sleeping infant and promptly fell asleep.


The next thing she knew, the proximity alert was blaring harshly in her ear. She staggered out of bed and out of the sleeping quarters, still half asleep, cursing loudly when she stubbed her toes on the doorframe on the way out.

It turned out that her calculations had been a bit off and that the yacht had gotten too close to an asteroid belt around a gas giant. She corrected the mistake and thereby interrupted the proximity alert, then leaned back in the seat and closed her eyes. She could not remember ever having been that tired in her life before. All her training as a Peacekeeper was for nothing at this point.

But then something rose from the murky waters of her subconscious mind and suddenly she was wide awake. Something was wrong. Something had been wrong when she got up. She just couldn't put a finger on what it had been.

Without delay, she got up and hurried back to the sleeping quarters. Her gaze instantly settled on John, who was moaning quietly in his sleep. His brow was glistening with sweat and his was moving his head back and forth.

She rushed over to his side and put a hand on his wet brow. He was burning up. "Frell," she muttered. Something told her that this wasn't the transformation. She pulled the neck of the t-shirt down a little to get a better look at the injection site and was appalled when she realized that it was heavily infected and that red streaks were radiating outwards in all directions. "Frelling fekkik," she hissed.

She grabbed the medical supply kit, found a cleaning solution and poured it over the wound. John jerked and his eyelids fluttered open for a microt, but then he was back in the fever dream he seemed stuck in.

"Oh frell," she muttered. She wasn't competent enough to deal with such injuries and this had probably festered for two solardays. Then something suddenly hit her that she had not considered previously. Suddenly cold, she rushed over to the other cot and unwrapped her son. To keep him warm, she had put one of her t-shirts on him. The sleeves were too long, of course, and hid his arms. When she pulled the right sleeve up to inspect the injection site, she clapped a hand over her mouth to keep any outbursts at bay. His arm was black and blue from the elbow to the shoulder and there was a dark red streak going from the crook of his elbow, where that fekkik had taken the tissue sample, to his shoulder.

She quickly removed the bandage and found a similarly infected wound on her son's arm as she had found on John's shoulder. "Frell," she snapped. She tried the same treatment with the baby and it worried her beyond reason that he hardly responded to the obvious sting of the cleaning solution.

Desperate for help, Aeryn rose and rushed back out into the cockpit, where she set the search for a medical convoy or high-class commerce world in the area. It could take solardays before she found something and that fluttering fear in the pit of her stomach told her that neither of the two in the sleeping quarters had that much time left.

She had barely started the search before it yielded a result, though. A medical convoy coming her way. She changed course in the direction of the convoy and started hailing them, but realized soon that she was still too far away. Knowing that she was depleting the energy reserves of the yacht, she nonetheless pushed the vessel into the highest possible speed while she sent a silent prayer to the only goddess she had ever been subjected to. Zhaan's goddess.


It took an arn of full-power thrust before she was in communication range with the convoy and at that point she was frantic for their help. She kept hailing them until they responded.

"Unnamed yacht, what is your emergency?" the reply finally came through.

Aeryn briefly closed her eyes and suddenly realized how close to tears she was. "I have an infant and a male on board with... infections," she said. She was uncertain about what this type of infection was called. "They were both injected with unclean needles," she added.

"How old is the infant?" came the immediate reply.

"A few solardays," Aeryn replied and realized that she had no reference point for how old her son actually was. With all that had happened, she had lost count of the days.

"How far are you from us?" came the reply.

Aeryn did a few calculations. "About a solarday," she finally said.

"Is there no way you can speed up the approach?" the voice at the other end enquired.

"No, I have used most of my fuel on reaching transmitter range," she replied.

This was followed by a brief pause. "It would appear, from what you describe, that both the male and the infant have blood poisoning. Do you have any medication apart from a standard medkit on board?"

"No," Aeryn replied while she kept glancing around the cockpit for something she knew wasn't there.

"All right. Listen carefully. We are changing course to intercept you. We will reach you in half a solarday. Until then, you must try to keep the red streaks from reaching the heart area. Especially on the infant. You do this by cutting into the streak's path and letting the wound bleed. This is very primitive, but at this point it is your only option. If the streaks reach the heart, both will die."

Aeryn nodded, realized that they couldn't see her and managed a croaked yes. She was exhausted and terrified of losing both John and the baby at this point and wanted to take her anger and fear out on someone or something.

With her heart thudding in her throat, Aeryn raced back to the sleeping quarters and decided to try and save her son first. John seemed less susceptible to this for some reason she couldn't explain. He was still moaning and hotter than a furnace. Her son, however, felt cold and clammy to the touch and was very lethargic.

She sterilized a small-bladed knife she found in the medkit and did as the medic at the other end had suggested by cutting into the skin just in front of the red streak. Blood started oozing from the wound, but the baby made no sound. He just moved one hand a little. "Please, don't die," she whispered helplessly.

After a while, the bleeding subsided. Aeryn picked the baby up and carried him around while she paced the sleeping quarters, desperate for the help to arrive.

When the yacht suddenly shuddered, she felt as if cycles had passed. In truth it had not even taken the medical convoy half a solarday to reach her.