On Moya

D'Argo paced back and forth in Command. Occasionally he would stop to stare at the forward viewscreen, then he resumed his pacing again. Aeryn was dead and John had lost his mind. There was no doubt about it. The fact that he wanted the medics on that flying junkyard of a medical convoy to cut her open to find out what had killed her made no sense whatsoever. But he had been insistent and Rygel and Chiana supported his choice.

They had waited for arns and then the only message they got was that John was returning to Moya, alone. The pod had landed moments ago and D'Argo did not expect John to turn up any time soon, so when he heard footsteps approaching, he stopped pacing and turned toward the door and folded his arms over his chest as John stepped through the doorway and came to a stop. The Human was staring into space, his expression odd considering what had happened. He appeared to be on the verge of a smile, unless D'Argo was misreading him.

"So?" D'Argo asked. "Did you get your answers?"

John focused on him and then he did smile. It was a quirky kind of smile, one that made D'Argo think that John wasn't really sure if he should smile. "Oh yeah," he said and suddenly grinned broadly. "I got my answer all right," he added.

D'Argo was utterly confused now. When John had taken Aeryn's limp body over to the medical convoy, he had been on the verge of suicide, of going mad with grief, and now he looked like none of this had happened. "What the frell did they do to you on that medical convoy?" D'Argo asked, suddenly concerned. Had they frelled with his mind? Was it possible that Scorpius and his henchmen had been waiting for him over there?

"Nothing, D. Nothing at all," John replied and shook his head. "Her battery pack ran out," he added.

D'Argo stared at him. "What?" he asked. He was certain his translator microbes had just gone on strike and left the bad ones to run the shop. He could have sworn that John had said her battery pack had run out.

John shook his head again with that half-smile on his lips. "She was a bioloid, D. There's a chance that Aeryn's still out there, alive and ready to kick some booty. She isn't dead, big guy. She isn't dead." With that, John turned around and walked away again.

D'Argo just stood there for a moment, then he sighed almost carefully. It was quite obvious that his friend had taken leave of his senses. The grief had become too much for the man to handle. His mind, frail after being frelled with so much, had finally snapped. "Oh, my friend," he muttered sadly. He would have to keep an eye on the Human from now on to prevent him from going completely overboard. It was a sad day all around.

***

Later that day

John sat on the table in the galley, feet on the bench, and stared out the windows at space drifting by. Right now, they were on the road to nowhere, no destination in sight and no idea what tomorrow would bring. But a plan was forming in his mind, a plan that desperately needed a catalyst, a point of origin. He wanted to find the real Aeryn, had to find her, but he didn't know where to start. She had been gone almost a full cycle now and could be anywhere. There were a great many enemies breathing down their necks, all interested in getting to him through his Achilles heel. The Scarrans knew how precious she was to him. The Peacekeepers knew. The Nebari probably knew as well. In short, she could be anywhere and that made finding her a little more tricky than he had expected.

Sitting here now, thinking back on the past half cycle since she had returned, changed and pregnant, he could suddenly see all the little signs, all the wrongness in her behavior. There had been so many signs telling him what he didn't want to see. And he knew he had been blind to the truth. Aeryn Sun, his Aeryn, was not a frail, cry-at-the-drop-of-a-hat kind of woman. Not even after all the crap she had been through. Her responses to him, her need to please, had been out of character in such detail that it should have screamed him in the face that something was wrong. Her refusal to tell him where she'd been, the fact that she'd brought Scorpius back with her when she had finally returned. She had shown all the signs and he had seen none of them, been aware of none of them. And why? Because he had taken that damned drug. Because he had first been overjoyed at seeing her, then mortified that she would bring his worst nightmare on board, and then, in a stupid attempt to protect her from Scorpius, he had taken that damned drug.

"Stupid, stupid, stupid," he muttered. He balled his hands into fists and tried desperately to come up with a plan; one that would actually work.

"John." D'Argo stepped into the galley.

John glanced at him over one shoulder. "Yeah, D. What's up?"

D'Argo looked uncomfortable, seemed to have something he wanted to get off his chest. He glanced around, anywhere but directly at John. "Are you ... certain ... you even saw the medic?" he asked and suddenly focused on him fully.

With a frown, John shifted a little to better face him. "What do you mean?" he asked, although he had a pretty good idea what his friend might be hinting at.

"I mean ... are you certain that you waited for the medic? Are you convinced that you didn't just ... make yourself believe this because it is easier to live with?" D'Argo asked. He looked sorry for asking.

For a moment, John just sat there and stared at him. Then he made a face. "Yeah, D'Argo, I'm sure I didn't imagine it. At first I thought I might have. It took me a few moments to realize that it was not my imagination. And if you think about it, big guy, you'll have to agree that all the signs were there," he said. "She was off key from the first moment she set foot back on Moya. I didn't want to see it. I was just happy she was back. Then concerned that she was sick. Then mortified that she'd brought Scorpy back with her."

"And then drugged out of your frelling mind in an attempt to protect her," D'Argo added.

John made a face again. "Yeah, I guess," he agreed a little reluctantly. "The matter of fact is, she wasn't 'Aeryn'. She was off key, different, weaker and frailer. Aeryn is not frail. She's not weak. She doesn't try to please others. She does what she thinks is right, whatever it may be. But she doesn't do things to please others," he added and rose. He stepped off the bench and walked over to one of the windows to look outside. "I didn't want to see it. I made up excuses for her. I believed everything she said. Hell, in the end I even believed Scorpy. But now ... now I see; now I understand." He turned back to face D'Argo again. "You think I'm nuts, don't you? You think I've flipped my lid over losing her and that I'm making up stories to keep her alive."

D'Argo nodded reluctantly. "I do, actually," he said. "And I wouldn't blame you if that was what you did, John. I can understand the loss. I've been there." With a sigh, he grabbed a bottle of raslac and two glasses and settled down on the bench across from where John was standing. "Have a drink with me. Let's talk."

John eyed him for a moment; wondered if he would be able to sway him to his way of thinking, then figured the only way to do that would be to talk to the guy. So he sat down too, grabbed the glass D'Argo held out to him and took a sip of the liquid. "See, here's how I figure it happened. Aeryn was pretty torn up about the death of the other guy," he said and set the glass down thoughtfully. He eyed the contents for a moment, then raised his gaze to meet D'Argo's. "I think she did go to meet those renegade ex-PKs out there somewhere and she may have made it too. But somewhere along the way, it went wrong. Someone grabbed her, someone who wants the tech in my head, and they duplicated her to send a bioloid back to spy on me. My first and best bet is Scorpius. He brought her back here; not the other way around. She wasn't having heat delirium, she was only programmed to pretend she had it. And everything since then has been a lie. The fact that she wouldn't tell me where she'd been ... it made no sense to me. I mean, what was the big deal, right?" D'Argo nodded and John took another sip of the raslac. "Okay, so I didn't think too much about it, only that it bothered me and having Scorpy around really put a twist on things. The fact that she - in a round-about way - supported Sputnik's need to go back and save Scorpy really put a twist in my pantyhose. She said she didn't want to save him, but I know she did. She wanted to go back for him. And why? Because he made her."

"You don't know that," D'Argo claimed. "It might as well have been the Scarrans. For all we know, Scorpius doesn't even know how to make bioloids."

John paused and pursed his lips in thoughtful contemplation. Then he nodded once. "Could be. But I doubt it's the Scarrans, though. Why would they want to extract a non-viable fetus from a home-made bioloid if they knew she was one?"

"True," D'Argo agreed, "but on the other hand, John, don't you think that the first time they duplicated her on that border station, they may have noticed she wasn't the real thing?"

"I've thought about that," John said while slowly twirling the glass between his fingers. Then he stopped and once again focused on D'Argo. "But the medics on this medical convoy examined her for arns before they found out. I don't think the Scarrans went into very much detail with that first copy of her. Or second, as it were. They wanted a distraction. I don't think they counted on her to exist for very long. No, this one was made of finer stuff. This one was meant to fool me for a good long while and she did. She fooled me big time."

"Not only you, my friend," D'Argo said and John knew by that, that D'Argo was beginning to believe him.

"As it were," John continued and ran the ball of his right thumb over his lips. "Whoever grabbed her, may still have her. As collateral or whatever. But I don't think she's dead. I think I would know. I think that's why I had such a hard time believing that she was dead. It didn't make any sense."

"I grant you that," D'Argo agreed. "She did drop rather quickly. I've actually never seen anyone die so fast without there being some kind of aggressive virus in the air. And that would have killed us too," he added.

"Exactly," John said and emptied his glass. He held it out, beckoning for more, and D'Argo poured them both another glass. "So, my bet is that it's Scorpy, but I'm not sure and I'm not going near that frellnik unless I've got a pretty good lead. My plans tend to go horribly wrong where he's involved and I'd rather not get within a few thousand metras of him unless there's no other way."

"That, for once, is a good plan," D'Argo said, holding up a finger in an almost lecturing manner. "So, how are you going to find out if it is him?"

"See, that's the biggest problem. I was thinking of backtracking her route by finding those ex-PKs. Only problem is ... I have no damned idea where they are or where to start looking."

D'Argo emptied his second glass in one go and set it down in front of him. He stared at it for a moment, then shrugged lightly. "I cannot advise you how to proceed. I wouldn't know either. We no longer have the benefit of having an ex-Peacekeeper among us who would know such things."

"Right you are, big guy. Right you are," John said, a little disheartened. "I'll have to think about it for a bit, try to find a way to do this. 'Cause I'm not backing down."

D'Argo poured himself another glass and set the bottle down with a sigh. "You have considered the possibility that ... whoever made this bioloid may have ... gotten rid of the original?" he asked a little wearily.

"Yeah," John said with a nod and sipped his raslac. "Yeah, I have considered that. But I don't think so. I can't think so. I can't give up on her, D'Argo. Not now."

D'Argo nodded solemnly. "I understand, my friend. Do what you feel you must. But do so well rested and on a full stomach," he said and rose. "I am hungry. I'll just go find Chiana and then we can have a meal together."

"Sounds good, big guy," John replied and smiled ruefully. D'Argo was only halfway believing him. He could tell by the somewhat accommodating tone of voice he was using at the moment.

***

A weeken later

Try as he might, John could not come up with a solution to his problem. How did he track down a band of ex-PKs that were hiding from the Peacekeepers? The matter of the fact was that it was going to be damned near impossible. That, of course, did not mean that John would give up. Not a chance. He would stick with this like a tick on a dog. There was no way in hell that he would give up on Aeryn that easily. But it was frustrating. His mood had gone from bad to good and straight back to bad. Only now he wasn't sad, he was angry.

He kept pacing, kept wandering around, couldn't sit still. He missed Aeryn terribly and felt like banging his head against the wall several times a day for the fact that he hadn't noticed sooner, that he had allowed that pale imitation-skin copy to fool him into believing a more docile and definitely more human Aeryn had returned to him.

And while he kept pondering how to get to her, he couldn't stop wondering if she even wanted him to find her. What if she told him to get lost once he did find her? What would he do then? Based on how he had imagined the entire scenario, she hadn't had a chance to do whatever she wanted to do to get over the other him. So, what if she was still in mourning or perhaps even hated him for leaving her in this fix for this long? Could he bear that?

Yes, he decided, he could; as long as she was alive, he could bear it. If he found her, alive and hopefully well, and she told him to get lost, he would. But only because she was alive, only because he knew she was out there somewhere.

Frustration, however, was taking its toll on him. He knew every tier of Moya by heart these days because he kept wandering around when he couldn't sleep. He couldn't sleep because he was frustrated and it frustrated him like hell that he couldn't sleep. He was stuck in a vicious cycle that he couldn't break until that crucial bit of information turned up that would put him on the track of those ex-PKs.

Pilot was keeping an ear to the ground, listening in on all kinds of frequencies to perhaps pick up a bit of information that might help. D'Argo was doing his bit, although what he did defied John's understanding; but as long as the big guy said he helped out, that was good enough for John.

Rygel had even gone as far as get in touch with some rather doubtful connections, but of course they had yielded no answers.

John had been on another lengthy trek through Moya's innards, driving himself up walls with concern and restlessness. He knew that a few days might not make that big a difference at this point, considering that it had been almost a cycle since Aeryn had disappeared, but he still couldn't help itching. He needed to find her, needed to find a way to search, but he couldn't come up with anything that would speed things up. All they could do for now was wait.

With a sigh borne of fatigue and worry, John turned a corner and walked into the galley to get a bite to eat before he would continue onwards in his mental search for an answer. He needed to keep moving. Sitting around only made him much more edgy. "Shit," he muttered and stopped at the refrigeration unit. He stared idly at it for a moment, then pulled it open and inspected the various odds and ends occupying it.

With Chiana perhaps permanently blinded, there was no cooked food around. She couldn't very well cook when she couldn't see what she was doing and neither D'Argo, nor Rygel, nor himself were any good in a kitchen. So they stuck to vegetable-like foods and fruit, certain bread substances that could keep and the ever-present food cubes. He preferred to chew on old leather if he had to be honest, but they did provide nourishment and that had to be the main thing.

"Hey."

He glanced toward the door and smiled vaguely. "Hey, Pip," he replied, grabbed a box of fruits he remember seeing before and closed the unit again. "Where's D'Argo?"

She shrugged and made her cautious way into the galley, hands stretched out in front of her. She insisted on finding her own way, on learning to get around without help, and he had to admit that she was doing good. She was really getting the hang of this.

"I don't know. Frelling around somewhere as usual," she replied with a grin that wasn't entirely up to her normal standards.

John eyed her as he put the box of fruit down on the table. "What's on your mind, Pip?" he asked.

She started and seemed to recoil for a split second before she caught herself and tried another halfway successful smile. "Nothing," she claimed and he knew by the way she moved, the way she twitched, that she was lying. She did have something on her mind and from the way she behaved, it could indicate that she had done something she knew she shouldn't have.

John couldn't help grinning. "What have you done now? Slept with Rygel to tick D'Argo off?"

Her expression was a joy to behold. She looked utterly disgusted. "Eww!" she hissed. "No frelling way. I may be promiscuous, Crichton, but I would never frell a Hynerian," she added and shuddered at the mere thought.

John chuckled, although he knew that his seeming joy was as fake as her grin and that she could hear it. The smile faded from his face and he sat down in front of the box and just stared at it. "I can't help thinking," he said after a moment.

Chiana made her way over to the table and sat down across from him. "About what?" she asked.

"About ... the other Aeryn. The copy. The bioloid," he said and sighed. "I've been so hooked on finding the real deal that I didn't stop to consider ... she had a life," he continued. "She didn't know she was a bioloid. She ... thought she was the real deal."

"In a sense, Crichton, she was. Just like the other you was the real deal. Granted, she was a machine, but she didn't know. She felt; she loved you," Chiana countered and cocked her head to the right. "You loved her too, didn't you?"

John closed his eyes for a moment and tried to distinguish between them without any luck. Apart from the physical difference on the inside and the fact that the copy had been more docile, more human, she had still been Aeryn in a way. "Yeah," he then agreed. "I did. I do. Because she's Aeryn. Because she was Aeryn." He shook his head lightly and grabbed a fruit from the box. "It's so damned confusing. It tore my heart out that she died. Then I find out she might not be dead after all." He sighed. "I totally understand now what Aeryn was going through when she came back here after ... losing the other one."

"About frelling time too," Chiana said with a smile. "Crichton," she added, then paused.

He lowered the fruit he had just been about to sink his teeth into and eyed her. "What?" he asked.

She sighed and started chewing on her lower lip in an insecure way that was not like her. "I ... may have done something I shouldn't," she finally said and shifted uncomfortably on the bench.

"Like ... what?" he asked. He wasn't sure yet how to respond to her would-be confession because he didn't know what it was about yet.

"When ... Aeryn decided to leave here ... a cycle ago," she started, then paused again and shifted a little more. "Well ... someone on that command carrier had given her directions to where those ex-Peacekeepers were."

John frowned and pushed the box aside. It wasn't exactly preventing him from seeing her, but he felt it was in the way anyway. "Who?" he asked.

"I don't know," Chiana said and rubbed her palms over her thighs. "Whoever it was gave her a ... a chip ... with directions."

"A chip?" he asked.

"Yeah, a chip," she agreed and suddenly grew very still. Then she reached down the front of her bodice and produced what looked much like a vidchip to John. "This chip," she added and placed it on the table.

John stared at it for a moment, then looked up at her again. "You stole her chip?" he asked quietly.

Chiana wiggled her head a few times, then made a face. "Well ... kinda," she half-admitted. "I thought ... if I took it, she wouldn't leave. You know?"

He could not fault her reasoning. She had tried to stop Aeryn from leaving in her own way, but had been as unsuccessful at it as he had been. "Yeah, I know," he said quietly.

Chiana pushed the chip across the table toward him and he accepted it. "I didn't think about it until this morning," she said. "Had totally forgotten I had it. I found it by chance, asked D'Argo what it was. He told me it was a vidchip and I remembered. I'm sorry, Crichton. I should have given this to you sooner."

"No, Chiana, you shouldn't have. Because if you had ... I would have gone after her immediately. Well ... after you guys came back, that is," he said. "And I would probably have run into trouble I couldn't handle. I seem to do that a lot, you know."

Chiana chuckled, relieved that he wasn't angry with her, and reached out for his hand. He took it and gave her fingers a squeeze. "Maybe now ... we can all go after her? Those ex-Peacekeepers might know where she is."

With a nod, John brought her hand up to his lips and kissed the back of it. "Yeah, now we can go find her. Thanks, Pip." With that, he rose and left the galley. He finally had a purpose, a lead. It was what he had waited for and he couldn't wait to get going, to find those ex-PKs and find out what the hell had happened to Aeryn.

***

Three solardays later

The coordinates on the chip brought them to a part of the UTs that John knew existed, but had never given any thought. To his immediate surprise, D'Argo, Chiana, Rygel and even Pilot and Moya knew about it. But the core was not something they spoke of aloud. What little they did tell made John think that the core of the UTs, which essentially translated to the core of this galaxy they were in, was shrouded in mystery, legend and folklore and that essentially meant that no matter how religious or not people were, they made a wide berth around this sector.

With a lopsided grin on his lips, John stood in Command and watched as the dense star systems drifted by them one by one. Everything was closer together near the core and from the specs Pilot had shown him, he knew that the core itself, as huge as it was, was shrouded in a nebular that may or may not contain something other than stellar mist. Moya appeared to be more eager than the rest and Pilot had started to agree with her over the past solarday. This was an exciting new adventure and there was next to no chance of running into Peacekeepers here.

"So, what you're telling me, Pilot, is that every species in this galaxy has the same tales about this place?" he asked and glanced at Pilot's image on the clamshell.

"Yes, Commander," Pilot agreed. "There are told many and strange tales about this sector in all parts of this galaxy, which leads me to believe that they may be true."

"Well, there may be truth to them, Pilot, but from what I understand most of these tales are what we call urban legends back home. Essentially, they're lies someone came up with to explain a situation or event. These lies escalate and become folklore if you will; stuff that's retold around the fire at night," John countered. "Of course, there is a grain of truth in it somewhere or they wouldn't have gotten started in the first place."

Pilot's image eyed him for a moment. "Is it then not conceivable that some of these tales are essentially true?" he asked.

"I suppose so. Let's just hope it's the nice, fluffy ones that are true and not the other ones," he replied and grinned. "Take it from me, Pilot. The monsters under the bed usually turn out to be dust bunnies."

"Dust bunnies?" Pilot asked, then turned his attention away for a moment. "I'm receiving a signal," he added.

"Patch it through to Command. Let's hear what they've got to say," John said, all eager. Somewhere in the back of his mind, he was foolishly hoping that it would be Aeryn trying to contact them.

"Crew of the leviathan. Identify yourselves and state your business in this sector," a voice demanded.

John glanced back over one shoulder as D'Argo, Chiana and Rygel joined him. Then he returned his attention to the viewscreen again that showed nothing but condensed space ahead. "Pilot, is there a visual to go with that voice?" he asked.

"One moment, Commander. I'll patch it through," Pilot said.

An image flickered into existence in front of them, seeming much like a Peacekeeper transmission except for the nervousness and suspicion on the face of the female Sebacean at the other end. "Leviathan Moya. State your business in this sector," she repeated. Her voice was as dark as her eyes.

"We're looking for someone who might have passed through here about a cycle ago; someone who might still be with you," John said and stepped forward.

The dark eyes scanned what she could see of Command, then fixed back on John. "You are not Peacekeepers," she stated.

"No, we're not. We're just looking for a lost friend," John agreed.

"Identify yourselves," she demanded. It was obvious that these people didn't get many visitors and when they did get the occasional one, they were extra careful.

"I'm John Crichton," John said and stepped aside. "These are Ka D'Argo, Chiana and Rygel the Sixteenth," he then introduced the others. Then he paused and eyed the female before stepping back into her line of sight. "And who are you?"

She narrowed her eyes a little, then glanced sideways and nodded once. "Veena Tonga," she introduced herself. "Captain of Balroc the Leviathan," she added.

Almost immediately, the viewscreen behind her transmission revealed the rather sudden appearance of a huge Leviathan, pitch black and with no running lights.

John frowned at the image. There was no doubt in his mind that this Leviathan was armed. Although no weapons were immediately visible, there were too many openings in the hull around the front for it to be a coincidence.

"Who are you looking for?" Captain Tonga asked, obviously satisfied with the fact that they now knew what they were up against.

"A lost friend," John repeated. "I'm not comfortable about speaking to you like this. Can we get together? Face to face?"

Captain Tonga glanced sideways again, obviously listening to someone else saying something to her, and nodded again before returning her attention to John. "Only you," she said. "You are welcome to come on board."

John nodded once. "I'll be right over," he said.

Without delay, the connection was cut and they could again only see Balroc floating between the stars.

"John, is that wise?" D'Argo asked. "Going over there alone? I must admit that I am not ... comfortable about that at all."

John turned around to face the three of them. "Neither am I, D'Argo, but what choice do I have? I want this information. I need it. So I'm going over there. If I'm not back within half an arn or you haven't heard from me by then, get the hell out of here as fast as you can."

"Crichton," Chiana tried, but he stepped forward and grabbed her shoulders, stopping whatever she was about to say.

"Don't say it, Pip. Let me just pretend that I can get the information I need over there. Hell, for all I know, Aeryn may be on that ..." He glanced over his shoulder at the viewscreen and frowned. "Are you sure that's a Leviathan? It looks awfully big."

"It is," Pilot confirmed from the clamshell. "This is a fully grown male. With modifications."

"Obviously," John muttered, then returned his attention once again to his three friends. "I gotta do this. I need to know or I'll never find any peace." That said, he released Chiana's shoulders, gave D'Argo's shoulder a pat on the way to the door, but came to a stop again once he reached it. Another quick glance back and a somewhat shaky smile should have been enough, but he felt the need to say something more. "Keep the lights on, guys. I'm coming back," he said and strode out the door.

***