The impending trip to the Aurora chair turned out to be something other than John had thought. He was pointedly dragged past the open doorway through which the chair could be seen. Instead, they took him to another room, which contained a table looking much like a cross. His initial thought when he saw it was that they were going to dissect him, but the idea died in birth because he now knew that Scorpius was desperate for his help.

He couldn't help being worried, though, when they stripped his coat and t-shirt off him and strapped him down on the table on his stomach. Gingerly flexing his fingers, he realized that was the only thing he could actually move more than a fraction of an inch and by the time Scorpius finally entered the room, he was deeply worried about this whole setup. Turning his head, he glanced up at the half-breed, his eyes betraying his fear despite his attempts to subdue it.

"Oh, don't look so worried, John. This will be over quickly and it won't hurt," Scorpius said, patting his shoulder, "much."

"What are you going to do to me?" he asked and instantly wished he hadn't. He didn't want to know, didn't care to know. He had a pretty good idea already, although he couldn't imagine why Scorpius might consider putting a chip back in his head.

"Just a little something to ensure your obedience during the ... trying times ahead. I can't have you running out on me like you did previously," Scorpius replied and waved at someone else. "Go ahead. He's all yours."

Turning his head to the other side, he caught a glimpse of the female he had dubbed Peacekeeper Barbie. "Hey, I thought you kicked the bucket, Red," he exclaimed, a little nervous humor his only defense against them.

She merely glanced at him with a totally indifferent expression and held up what looked like an injector. Only the tip of it was a hell of a lot bigger than any he had seen so far. She pressed it against the small of his back and pressed the button on it.

The injection, if that was indeed what it was, caused him to let out a yelp of pain. It basically felt like she had stabbed an icepick into his back. He clenched his teeth together, trying hard to keep a lid on his feelings, but it was getting harder by the second. After what seemed like forever, she released the button again and the pain lessened almost instantly. That didn't put his mind at ease, though. "What the hell was that?" he demanded.

"Nothing you need to concern yourself about," Scorpius told him and gave Peacekeeper Barbie another nod.

She grabbed a hold of the back of John's head, pressed his face down into the table and pressed something cold against the back of his neck, right at the base of his head. He didn't so much scream as grunt when she pressed the button, but that was mainly because he couldn't scream. She held his head steady for a moment, then released him again and stepped back. "That's it," she told Scorpius. "He shouldn't move for half an arn. Then you can do whatever you see fit." With those words, she turned and strode out.

Keeping his brow pressed down on the table surface, John tried to regain his breath. Damn, that had hurt. He had the feeling that she had inserted a boulder in his neck. There was definite pressure there, and he could feel blood trickling down the sides of his neck from the wound. After a moment, he gingerly moved his head, hissing at the stinging pain. "What the hell did she just put in me?" he demanded, glancing up at Scorpius.

The hybrid eyed him thoughtfully, then sighed, turned around and left. It was obviously nothing he wanted to share with John.

"Shit," John hissed. It hadn't been another neural chip. That much he knew. But he had no idea what else it could be.

***

Half an arn later, the guards returned to release him from the table and allowed him to get his t-shirt back on before grabbing him and dragging him along. He was still weakened from the stun-shots and the fear he felt made him nauseous. Not that he'd had anything decent to eat in awhile. So, if he did get sick, he wouldn't be able to throw anything up.

This time they didn't drag him past the door, but straight into the room and up to the chair. He struggled, trying to fight back, but his weakened condition didn't allow for much and they had no trouble strapping him into the chair.

"Now, this should be over a little quicker than last time, John. I assume we can be done with this reading by the end of the day," Scorpius said, looking rather content. "That is, if you don't fight it. Give me free access to what is in your mind and you won't have to suffer long. Once I know if you're telling me the truth or not, you will be able to rest. And tomorrow, we start to decipher the data. I think you will find the process rather fulfilling."

"You know what your problem is, Scorpy?" John said, trying desperately to subdue the panic rising in him. The thought of having to go through this once more made him frantic to the extreme, though, and that again made it hard for him to keep his voice steady. "You think too much. I don't have access to the data in my head and I have no idea what to do with it, either. I can't unlock it. You're wasting your time here."

Scorpius regarded him thoughtfully for a moment, then sighed. "Well, only time will tell," he said. "Don't fight it, John. Let us roam freely and this will be over very quickly."

Without a decent reply at hand, John opted to remain silent instead. He knew that this damned chair could kill him if he fought it, so he decided to fight it as much as he possibly could. Maybe they would fry his brain before Scorpius could get anything useful out of him. With no other solution in sight, he figured he had no other choice. Inhaling deeply, he held his breath for a moment, knowing full well that the barriers he was putting up would be trampled into the ground at a fast and furious pace, but he would do what he could to keep them out of his mind.

"Start the procedure," Scorpius said and stepped down from the platform the chair was mounted on.

No matter how much he tried to prepare himself for it, it still felt like he was rammed by a prowler. The impulses shattered the first barrier immediately and were only slightly delayed by the second one. He tried to fortify his mind, to force himself to think of only one thing, but the pain diverted his attention and the chair started ripping through his mind with frightful intensity. It was all he could do to hold on, but he also knew that he had to fight this. He couldn't let Scorpius in on what he had been doing lately, not that it really mattered in a contextual sense. He just wanted to keep these memories for himself.

With every new start, he felt himself weakening, screaming his head off in pain, but he fought the chair and he fought hard. The memory of a movie he had seen once, years before he had left on the Farscape module that fateful day, caused him to attempt to block out the impulses by imagining something that would calm him down and divide his thoughts away from what was happening to him. And to his great surprise, it worked. It stopped the flow of images pouring from his mind. It didn't, however, stop the pain. On the contrary. The level of agony intensified tenfold when he managed to stop the memories from flowing and the immediate physical side effect of that was a rather abrupt nosebleed.

Scorpius raised a hand, stopping the extraction with a frown. The only image they had gotten for a few microts now was of waves crashing onto a sandy beach. Staring at it, he tried to understand what it was, then looked over at his assistant. "What is that?" he asked, pointing at the image.

"A barrier, Sir," she replied. "A rather strong one, too."

"A neural block?" he asked, returning his attention to the flickering image.

"No, a thought barrier. I have never seen one so strong before," she replied.

Scorpius' frown deepened, then he turned his attention to John, whose breath came in small bursts. "What is this, John? Have you learned to block thoughts?" he asked, unhappy about this development.

John merely stared at him, trying to control his breathing with little luck. "My ... mind," he rasped.

"Yes, I know it's your mind, John. But I need to know what you know. Now, stop being so foolish. I do not wish to hurt you. I just wish to gain access to your most recent memories," Scorpius replied, feeling his patience tested.

"Frell ... you," John rasped and closed his eyes, forcing himself to focus on the waves breaking along the shore again.

For a long moment, Scorpius just stared at him, then he returned his attention to his assistant. "Increase the extraction level. But be careful not to overdo it. I don't want him to end up as a blithering idiot," he said.

She nodded, pressed a few buttons and started the procedure again.

***

After almost a full solarday, the Aurora chair had not been able to get past the image of waves crashing onto an imaginary shore except for a few, random and totally insignificant memories. Scorpius was unhappy about the outcome and more so about the way it influenced John. The strain on him was so great that his eyes were bleeding. He had stopped responding an arn earlier and still the chair could not break through the barriers he had created. Scorpius knew that it was time to call it quits and let him rest before his mind died.

Raising a hand, he made a face. "Enough for today. We will start again in the morning when he has had a chance to rest," he said.

With eyes so bloodshot that they were nearly dark red, John just sat there, spasmodic jerks ripping through him at regular intervals. Dried blood caked his face both from his nose and his eyes. His tears of pain had virtually turned to blood and his concentration on keeping the mind barrier in place left him completely unaware of anything going on around him at that point.

When the guards unstrapped him and dragged him out of the chair, he offered no resistance at all. They dragged him back to the cell and dumped him unceremoniously on the floor just inside the door before leaving again. And all the while, he was aware of nothing. His mind had shut down almost entirely, leaving nothing behind but the willfully imagined shore and the sustaining of basic bodily functions. Unbeknownst to him at that point, he had kept himself alive that way.

***

Kia, who had remained in the cell for the duration, stared at John for a few microts, then moved closer, her eyes darting over him. "John?" she asked, tilting her head to the left. She poked him with one finger and got no response out of him at all. Glancing at the door, she moved closer still, grabbed his shoulder and rolled him onto his back. "Hey, John," she tried again and reached out to wipe some of the blood off his face. She leaned in, looking down into his bloodshot eyes, which were wide open, then pressed the palm of her hand down over them for a moment, closing his lids in the process. "I know you can hear me," she added and used a snip of her t-shirt to dry the remainder of the blood off his face.

"You're a frelling mess," she told him, then patted his cheek. "Are you gonna talk to me today or are you just gonna lie there and say nothing?" Leaning in again, she studied his face up close, then blew on his right eye. That caused him to open his eyes, a reflex more than anything else. And then he blinked. First once, then twice. Then his eyes rolled back in his head. "Hey," she snapped and slapped him. "Don't zone out on me now."

***

The slap did something to him. The sharp sting of physical pain cut through the barriers he had created and slowly woke him up. He blinked again and suddenly found himself back in reality. He knew time had passed, that he had gone away somewhere in his mind, but he couldn't remember much other than the sensation of his mind liquefying. He inhaled sharply and tried to sit up, but his muscles didn't want to respond.

"Hi," Kia said, smiling vaguely at him. She patted his cheek again, attracting his attention. "Welcome back to the fun zone."

He didn't move for a second, just lay there and tried to force his mind to settle. Once, back on Earth, he'd been very sick from a viral infection, which had made his head hurt ferociously for almost two full days. At the age of fifteen, his resistance had been pretty low and he had cried his eyes out back then, begged for release from the terrible pain until the doctors had sedated him. The sensation he experienced now was more or less like that. Only this time, it hadn't been caused by a virus. And the pain was much, much worse.

His eyes felt as if they were filled with sand and no matter how he tried, he couldn't convince himself to speak. He wanted to say something, anything, to the woman hovering above him, but he couldn't think of a single thing. His mind didn't work properly.

Kia ignored his silence and instead hoisted him up and dragged him over to one mattress where she eased him down and cradled his head in her lap. "You're a mess, John," she repeated. "A mess."

He heard her words, listened to her voice, but he couldn't make sense of anything right now. All he wanted was for all of this to go away. The pain, the fatigue, the sense of defeat. He just wanted to close his eyes and fall asleep and when he woke up again, he would be at home, in his own bed. And he would be waking up because his dad would be calling him to ask if he was still sleeping. The thought made him smile vaguely. And then he started to cough. With an effort almost beyond him, he rolled onto his side and continued coughing weakly.

Kia helped him by supporting him and kept caressing his shoulder, not certain she could help him. "They really put you through the cycle there, didn't they?" she asked and raked her fingers through his hair. "You think you're gonna survive another trip?"

"No," he whispered, his voice grating in his ears. "I ... hope ... not." He closed his eyes, wincing at the feeling that the inside of his eyelids were covered with sandpaper.

"Well, at least you're still alive," she said, obviously not grasping the severity of his situation.

He opened his eyes again and raised his right hand a little in an attempt to wipe his eyes, but it was shivering so badly that he couldn't keep it up for more than a few microts. He had a very human term for this situation, one he felt applied better than the alien words he had learned for the same thing. "I'm ... fucked," he whispered and let his eyelids close again.

Kia frowned a little, but asked no questions. Instead she let him sleep, aware that he would need all the strength he could get for the next session.

***

Aboard Moya

"FRELL!" The spanner hit the wall with a resounding crash and was immediately followed by a part of the prowler's hull. Aeryn Sun was not partial to being patient when things didn't go her way. And they most certainly were not going her way right then. "FRELL IT ALL INTO THE NEAREST SUN," she roared, grabbed a piece of rather heavy machinery and tossed it as far as she could.

With burning cheeks, she hammered the tip of her boot against the landing gear of the prowler and hissed angrily when a jab of pain shot up her leg. Without thinking, she had used her injured foot and knew instantly that she had once again aggravated the sprain. Letting out a roar of anger, she grabbed the edge of the hole the hull piece had left, and wrenched another part off it, sputtering an alien curse at the obstinate piece of hardware. The metal screeched as she broke it with her bare hands and she tossed it aside in the same direction as the first piece had gone. "FRELLING STACK OF DREN," she yelled, grabbed a rather large tool used to break through metal surfaces of ships and very nearly drove it into the delicate machinery beyond the hull of her prowler.

A hand grabbed the tool, stopping it from damaging the prowler beyond repair. "THAT'S ENOUGH," D'Argo boomed, using the strength of his voice as much as the strength of his muscles to stop her from running totally berserk. "What the Hezmana are you doing?" he demanded, somewhat shaken by how little control the ex-peacekeeper had left.

"LEAVE ME THE FRELL ALONE," Aeryn roared, anger sparking in her eyes as she swirled around on one foot and attempted to deck the Luxan with a pentak jab.

D'Argo saw it coming, though, and stopped her hand in mid-motion. "Do you really think it's going to do any good if you destroy the prowler? What's your problem anyway?" he demanded, refusing to release her hand even though she tried to jerk back and out of his reach. "You're bleeding. You hurt yourself," he added, noting the trickle of blood running down her arm.

"Who cares?" she snarled. "Let go of my frelling hand," she added when he made no move to do so.

"No," D'Argo replied, giving her a warning glance. "Not until you talk to me."

"Aw, frell you, Luxan. I don't want to talk to you or anyone else. I want you to leave me the frell alone. All of you," she spat and kicked at him only to have him avoid her attack again by sidestepping her without releasing her wrist.

D'Argo figured that stronger measures were in order, so he released her hand and grabbed her by the shoulders, easily lifting her off the floor. "You are behaving like a sour Budong," he snarled, danger in his eyes. "Everybody on Moya knows that you're hurting, Aeryn. Why don't you try to talk about it instead of breaking everything in sight?"

Hotheaded as only she could be, Aeryn stared at him, her eyes hard as stone. "Set me down, you overgrown slabbernack," she snarled. "Right this instant."

"I will not set you down until you are calmer and will listen to what I say. I will tie you up and throw you in a cell if you don't stop behaving like a frelling lunatic," he warned her. "Do not make me tongue you."

Her eyes narrowed and she maintained her anger for a moment longer. But her facade crumbled as easily as water washing away a mudslide. She just could not stay angry when she hurt this much inside. "Frell it all," she muttered.

D'Argo figured she was sufficiently calm now, so he set her down again but did not release her shoulders. "Aeryn, I know how you feel. We all do. And we all understand. You do not have to go through this alone."

Aeryn ripped out of his grip and limped a few paces away before stopping again, her left hand clamping down on the cut on her right wrist. "Go through what? Chasing shadows? Trying to undo the inevitable?" she asked and turned back to face him, her eyes alive with fire. "We have spent the better part of a weeken tracing a frelling Command Carrier and we still have no clue where John is."

"Don't give up," D'Argo said although he himself was slowly losing hope that they would ever see the human again. At least he did not believe that they would find him alive.

"I am not giving up," she snapped and wiped her nose with the back of one hand.

"Then why are you so angry?" D'Argo asked.

"Why do you think, Luxan?" she snarled. "I let him down. I have this frelling injured foot and I couldn't get there fast enough. I failed him. I was supposed to protect him and I failed him." She spat the words out, anger and self-loathing making her see red. The guilt was eating her up and to cover it, she became angry and hateful to everything and everybody.

"Is that why you feel you need to yell at everybody and destroy everything?" D'Argo asked on. "We've all lost a friend here."

Aeryn stared at him for a few microts, then turned her back on him rather abruptly. "I don't need your sympathy," she grumbled, her tone of voice unsteady.

"But I think you do, Aeryn. We all need that sometimes," D'Argo disagreed. "And there is no shame in admitting it, either." He stepped forward while he spoke and put a hand on her shoulder, expecting her to shrug it off. He was a little surprised when she didn't. "As John would say, there is no time like today."

"The present," Aeryn said.

"What?" he asked, a little confused.

"There is no time like the present," Aeryn repeated. "If you quote him, D'Argo, at least get it right," she added, a touch of resentment in her voice.

"Yes, of course," he agreed. "Aeryn, I have been talking to the others about this and we are all more or less in agreement that we are wasting our time trailing after a Command Carrier that we could not keep up with to begin with."

Her shoulder tensed under his hand. "Are you suggesting we stop looking?" she asked and turned back to face him, her tone dangerously chilly.

"No, of course not," D'Argo argued. "But maybe we're going about this the wrong way. Maybe we should ... ask Crais for help. He used to be a Captain. He might have access to information that you do not."

Aeryn stared at him, her expression displaying everything she felt and even more she didn't feel. Her eyes were hollow depth, her skin pale. "Crais?" she asked, then dropped her gaze to the floor. "What could Crais possibly give us that we do not know already?" she asked, her tone doubtful.

"The location of the Gamak Base maybe," D'Argo suggested, hoping that she would see the reason he took for granted.

For a long moment, Aeryn said and did nothing, just stood there, her left hand wrapped around her still bleeding wrist, her eyes on the floor. Then she raised her gaze again to meet D'Argo's. "There are thousands of Gamak Bases," she said quietly, stressing each word. "Crais could not know which one Scorpius has taken over unless he has access to the Peacekeeper network. And he does not have access to that unless he is working for the Peacekeepers. And, as you well know, he is not working for them any more." With those words, she turned and limped away, keeping whatever feelings she was wrestling with buried deep inside.

***

The Gamak Base
The following morning

Scorpius had always considered himself a man of his word, but he did have to admit that he was a little worried about putting John in the chair the following morning. The man was unable to walk on his own and seemed generally to have trouble keeping his head up. Once he was seated, Scorpius stepped up on the platform and regarded him thoughtfully for a moment. "I almost feel as if this is a mistake, John. Perhaps I should let you rest longer?" he asked.

John stared back at him, his eyes still pretty bloodshot, while little jerks ran through his body almost constantly. But he said nothing. If he begged for more rest, something he desperately wanted to do, this whole scenario would drag out and he did not want to subject himself to more of this than necessary.

Scorpius eyed him, searching for signs of weakness, and found none. "All you have to do is ask, you know," he suggested.

"Let's get this show on the road, Scorpy," John rasped, his voice hoarse from all the screaming he had done the day before.

With a sigh, the half-breed nodded. "All right. But do try not to block us. It will kill you if you do. The chair is stronger," he said and stepped off the platform again.

"That's what I'm counting on," John muttered and closed his eyes, forcing himself back into that distant place where he had been able to keep the barrier up. He focused on the soothing sound of waves brushing against the land, imagined the ocean, the feel of the sand.

When the process started again, he almost lost his grip, the pain searing through his mind making it almost impossible for him to hold on, but he tried. He clawed mental fingers into that scene and held on tight, refusing to let go no matter how it hurt. But it got harder by the minute.

***