Two solardays later

John eyed the machine Stug had asked him to take a look at closely. He had peeled the outer layer off it and was staring at what he considered a less than intricate machinery within. He had spent a little over an arn staring at the interior, mapping it mentally, and tried to figure out how exactly it worked. As far as he could tell, there was nothing much to it and that made him suspicious towards Stug's intentions.

Stug turned up around midday. "How are you doing?" she asked.

"It's as simple as Hezmana," John countered and squinted at her. "Don't tell me that there's nobody around here who doesn't get this. You've got two million people on this station. There ought to be at least one of them who's a mechanic."

"We've had it open and others have said what you do. But we still do not know how it produces the cloak that so effectively shields us from outside interference," Stug countered and climbed up on the catwalk that ran along the side of the machine.

John frowned and glanced back in at the machine's innards. Essentially, it looked like a big turbine. A cylindrical body laid on its side which contained the machinery within. Then he arched an eyebrow. "Well, I think I can help you there," he said and couldn't help a grin. "This isn't the machine that produces the cloak," he stated.

"What?" Stug asked and gave the machine a startled look. "What is it then?"

"I'm guessing it's part of it, but this isn't the main machine. There has to be something in close proximity of it that produces the field. This thing doesn't have the capability. If I'm not entirely mistaken, this is like a turbine. It produces the power that the field needs to run." He stepped up to the edge of the catwalk and scanned the immediate area. There were a lot of things around them, buildings, trees, flowers, a fountain, and more buildings. He stopped short. "What's that?" he asked and pointed toward the structure he had mistaken for a fountain. It didn't spout any water, though.

"It's a light-fountain," Stug replied. "For decorative purposes only."

"A light-fountain?" John asked and eyed it with a frown.

"Well, that's as close as we can get to guessing at its purpose. The original constructor of the station had it put in. When the nearby suns cast their light in the right way, it reflects colors off the canopy above," she said. "We have always assumed that it was for decoration only."

John headed toward the ladder and climbed back down onto the main floor. He hesitated a moment while staring at the light-fountain, then walked swiftly over to it. Stug followed him.

He walked around the odd construction and ran a hand through some of the light beams it cascaded off in all directions. Then he stopped and looked up at the top of it. It consisted of a basin with a crystalline structure in the middle, which rose like a flower toward the canopy above them. John tilted his head back and gazed up at the transparent canopy. It was a latticework of glass and steel and the three nearby suns shed their somewhat feeble light through it, which cast shadows on the floor where it hit the steel girders holding the glass panes in place. The light-fountain counteracted some of the shadows with a brilliant display of all sort of colors.

"What are you thinking?" Stug asked. She was watching him intently, but with a slight smile on her lips.

"I'm thinking this is it," he said and returned his attention to her. "Are there any more of these?" he then asked and patted the edge of the basin.

Stug frowned. "Now that you mention it, yes. There are three more," she confirmed.

"Well, there you have it," John said. "These are the conductors or field generators if you will," he said. "The machine over there supplies them with power. I wouldn't be at all surprised if each of these light-fountains had one of those powerhouses connected to it. The others might not be so obvious, which is why you haven't noticed the connection."

Stug smiled and shook her head. "Bravo, Mr. Crichton. Bravo," she said. "This station has exists for two hundred cycles and with it the cloak that has kept it hidden. And in all that time, nobody ever knew."

"Well, for now it's a theory, Stug," John countered with a grin. "But I'm pretty sure I'm right." He looked around on the floor and eyed the floor plates closely. Then he grabbed a steel rod designed for lifting the heavy plates, inserted it in a hole that corresponded with the size of the rod and pulled one plate out of the way. An array of wires led away from the fountain toward the machine he had been asked to examine. "There's your proof," he added. "They're connected."

"Amazing," Stug said. "We've never had to remove these plates before. And nobody even considered that this might be the generator," she added and looked up at the fountain.

"Well, I'm glad I could help," John replied and settled down on the edge of the basin after replacing the floor plate again.

"Would you be able to take a look at this and find out how it works?" Stug asked.

John glanced upwards too and sighed. "Mechanics I can help you with, Stug, but crystals are a whole different matter. I have no idea how they're put together or how they work. So ... I think you'll have to find a crystal expert for that one," he said. "Sorry."

"No harm done. We've taken a giant leap forward just by knowing what you've managed to deduct in the span of an arn," she said and smiled a little self-consciously. "You must think we're fools," she added.

"No, not fools. Just ... lazy," he replied with a grin. "Don't worry about it, though. If these generators have been running for two hundred cycles, my guess is they'll be running for a while to come. What's important is keeping the power generators operational and anybody with basic mechanical skills can do that."

Stug nodded. "That's simple enough," she agreed. "Thank you. You've solved a great mystery for us," she added. "So, will you be staying here?"

"Oh yeah. It's nice with some peace and quiet. We haven't had much of that since ... forever." He paused with a slight frown furrowing his brow, then sighed. He couldn't remember right now when the last peaceful moment had been where none of them had been worried, but it didn't matter. He patted the edge of the basin and gave Stug a smile. "This is quite a place you've got here. Quite a place," he said and rose. "I'd better put the cover back on that monster. I do not want to be responsible for killing it."

The station-head seemed rather pleased by the whole thing. "Oh, I'm sure you would know how to fix it if that were the case," she said. "Enjoy your stay here. And if you do choose to leave ... please be sure to let me know?"

"Sure thing. But I doubt it will be any time soon," John countered and returned to the power generator to put the plating back on.

***

John and Aeryn's quarters

Aeryn sat on the step leading down to the garden behind their apartment and twirled a decidedly wilted flower between her fingers while she watched the grass quietly. This near miss had shaken her up in a way she had no words for. The thought of losing John again had made her realize, quite clearly, that it didn't matter which version she was with. She did not want to lose him twice. And there was no doubt in her mind now that the two men were the same. A few memories and experiences divided them and this version of him was a lot more haunted than the one she had finally given in to on Talyn, but when push came to shove, John was John and that was it.

With a light sigh she shifted her position a little and pulled one knee up so she could rest her lower arm on it. This place was wonderful, no doubt about that, but would she be able to stand living this sedate life for maybe cycles to come? She glanced down at the flower, which had lost most of its splendor and color as life slowly seeped from it, and wondered if she would end up the same way. She was used to being on the move, all the time. She had been that way while she had been a Peacekeeper and, needless to say, life had not been much different in that respect since she had become a renegade.

She inhaled deeply and held her breath for a moment. Her oldest and best friend from back then had called her a traitor. She kept telling herself that she was not a traitor, that Henta had just been too set in her ways to see anything beyond the Peacekeepers, but deep down she knew she herself had always harbored doubts about the Peacekeepers and what they stood for. It had been easy enough to push those doubts away, of course, but they had been there, always at the back of her mind. And she blamed Xhalax for them being there in the first place. If her mother had not looked her up as a child and told her she had been bred in love, she would have been just like all the others.

A vague smile spread over her lips. In a sense, Xhalax was to blame for how she had turned out; not that she considered it anything but a blessing these days. And now that John was rid of the technology, it was likely that things would begin to calm down. At least she hoped they would.

A sound behind her made her glance back into the bedroom. John had just stepped through the door and he looked remarkably together for someone who had nearly died two days ago. She rose and turned around to face him. "It's dying," she said and held up the flower.

He eyed it for a moment. "Then throw it away," he suggested. "I'm hungry. Let's go get something to eat."

Aeryn frowned briefly, then shrugged. Somehow, she had expected him to say something different or pick a new flower to put in her hair, but he was right, of course. A wilted flower was nothing to hang onto. She threw it out into the garden and turned back to face him. He was in the process of changing clothes. "How are you feeling?" she asked.

"Good as new," he replied without looking up. "Better than I have in cycles, as it were," he added and then glanced up at her with a smile.

Aeryn just eyed him for a moment. There was something off about him, something she couldn't quite put a finger on. "Are you sure?" she asked.

He straightened, pulled a fresh t-shirt over his head and tugged it into his pants. "Yeah, I'm sure. Why? Don't I look all right to you?" he countered and gave her a briefly scrutinizing look.

"No, you look fine. I'm just wondering," she replied. It was probably her imagination. He did look fine.

"Good," he said and held out an arm to her. She slipped under it and he pulled her close. "Now let's eat. I'm starving," he added and guided her out the door.

***

D'Argo and Chiana's quarters

D'Argo regarded his shilquen for a moment, then started tuning the instrument. Chiana was off somewhere with Sikozu and not for the first time did D'Argo wonder how those two got along without killing each other. Chiana seemed intent on avoiding the other Nebari on the station, which in itself was probably understandable. The Nebari had never been her best bet, except for her brother. And she had not heard any news of him for cycles now.

The Luxan sighed and lowered the shilquen. What was the use? He couldn't concentrate. The Luxans he had met on the station had fled from their homes for various reasons. Some of them were criminals, some were more or less in the same situation as he himself was; blamed for murders or crimes they had not committed. In a sense, it felt a bit like a penal colony here; a penal colony for the innocent and wrongly accused.

Before he could decide to make any further adjustments to his instrument, there was a light knock on the door. "Come in," he called.

The door opened to reveal Aeryn. She stepped inside, her movements hesitant. She was uncertain of whether she was welcome. He could tell just by the way she moved. "D'Argo," she said. "Do you have a moment?"

He put the shilquen on the floor and rose. "Of course. Come in," he said and waved her closer. The apartment he shared with Chiana was identical to the one John and Aeryn shared. "What can I do for you?" he asked. It was the first time since her return that Aeryn had actively searched out his company, which made him wonder what was on her mind.

"Well ... you can help me settle some strange ideas I've had today," she said and gave him a hesitant smile. "Because ... I think I'm going crazy," she added.

D'Argo eyed her. She didn't look crazy. She looked more confused and slightly concerned. "And why do you think that? And why are you not talking to John about it?" he asked. "He's not feeling worse, is he?"

"No, no, John is completely well. But ... these strange ideas I'm having are about him. I ..." She stopped and sighed heavily. "I'm probably crazy, but have you noticed anything odd about him over the past two days? Has he said or done something that you thought was different?" she asked.

D'Argo frowned lightly, then waved at the settee. "Sit down. Do you want anything to drink? I could use a Luxan ale," he said and got them both a glass even though she had yet to confirm or deny if she wanted one or not. He poured the liquid into both glasses and sat down across from her. "What do you mean, different?" he then asked.

Aeryn grabbed the glass and stared down into the amber liquid for a moment. Then she raised her head and stared at him. "Something different. I don't know why, but he seems to be behaving ... or rather ... he seems be less than he was before this dren happened."

"Less?" D'Argo asked. He wasn't entirely sure where she was heading with this. "What do you mean, less?"

"I don't know," she confessed and leaned back. She took a tentative sip of the ale and arched an eyebrow. "Good," she commented, then sighed. "The day before he went to see that old Ancient, he picked a flower and put it in my hair. It seemed like a very natural thing for him to do," she said and frowned. "As I said, I'm probably crazy, but when I commented on it being wilted today, he said to throw it away. It just struck me as a bit odd. I would have thought he would have picked a new one or told me to do something about it rather than just throw it away. He didn't seem to care, though."

"Well ... that does sound a bit odd, now that you mention it. Knowing John the way I do, I would have guessed the same as you; that he would have replaced it or told you to put it in water," he agreed. "Now that you mention it," he added, "I haven't heard him refer to Chiana as Pip one single time since he left the med-unit."

Aeryn leaned forward. "That's right," she agreed, obviously realizing the same. "Or Rygel. He hasn't referred to him as Buckwheat or whatever else he usually calls him since either. Or Sikozu. He usually calls her Sputnik, but he hasn't mentioned her by that name since."

D'Argo eyed her worriedly. "What do you think is wrong?" he asked.

"I don't know, but I have a bad feeling. I fear ..." she tried, then stopped and swallowed at the prospect of whatever she was seeing in her mind.

"You fear what?" D'Argo urged.

Aeryn focused on him and he could literally smell the fear on her. "I fear that frelling neural clone may have gained full control over him. That would explain why he is behaving differently," she said quietly.

D'Argo was inclined to agree with her at first, but then he frowned. "I'm not sure that's it, Aeryn. If the neural clone had taken over, he would try to leave, wouldn't he? Ever since he has left the med-unit, all I have heard him say is that he wants to stay here."

That caused her to frown. "You're right," she agreed and started chewing thoughtfully on her lower lip. "If the clone had taken over, he would try to get John back to Scorpius. So that can't be it," she added and leaned back again. "But what is it then?"

For a moment, D'Argo just stared ahead of himself. Then he focused on Aeryn again. "Here's a wild idea," he said and smiled. "Why don't you ask him what's wrong?" He had intended it as a joke, but Aeryn did not seem to be in a joking mood. She sighed deeply and took another sip of the ale.

"I suppose I will have to," she agreed. "I just can't help wondering ..." she tried and trailed off with a light shake of the head.

D'Argo waited for her to go on, but apparently she had no intention of that. "What?" he asked after a moment.

With another deep sigh, she drained the glass and put it down on the low table before getting up. "He's changed somehow, D'Argo. There's something missing. I just don't know what it is yet. But I'll find out."

That said, she left without another word and D'Argo just sat there and wondered what it could be. Now that Aeryn had mentioned it, he had noticed that John was a bit off, but he had attributed it to the fact that his friend had nearly died two days ago. That the encounter with that frelled Ancient might have done something to him other than remove the technology from his mind had really not occurred to him until now.

***

Within the short time span of one solarday he had found a job; one he could perform to his own satisfaction. It did appear that out of two million people living on Outland Station, not one of them was qualified to tend to the power generators keeping the station's cloaking device online at all times; so he had suggested that he could do that in return for food and board. Station-head Stug had more than willingly agreed and promised him all the information he might need on how crystals worked. So within a flash, he had a job and was being 'paid' for it too.

John couldn't help grinning. It was such a relief to finally be able to pull his own weight again. It made him feel good inside. He settled down on the settee in the apartment with a bottle of fellip nectar to celebrate. Aeryn wasn't present and accounted for, but he assumed she would turn up sooner or later. She usually did.

As he sat there, he slowly became aware that he couldn't really remember the last time he had worked for a living. He frowned a little at that idea and pensively rubbed the back of his neck. He knew he had worked. He had to have worked before. So what had he done? He was good at flying, so he'd probably been a pilot, hadn't he? His frown deepened. Why couldn't he remember what he had done before? That was downright stupid.

Before he could work himself up about this missing tidbit of information, the door opened and Aeryn strode in, her expression serious, her gait purposeful. "John, we need to talk," she said and literally threw herself onto the opposite side of the settee.

He arched an eyebrow and took a swig of the nectar. "About what?" he asked, but found he wasn't really interested. He was concerned about this missing memory.

"About you. There's something different about you since you left the med-unit," she stated.

He almost grinned. That was so typical Aeryn. She never kept anything back. "Different? In what way?" he asked.

"What do you always call Chiana?" she asked.

He stared at her for a moment, unable to come up with an answer for the time being. "What does that have to do with anything?" he countered.

"Everything. Just humor me, all right?" she shot back, her tone tense, her expression tenser. "What do you always call Chiana?"

He made a face and glanced off into nothingness for a moment. "Chi?" he then asked and looked back over at Aeryn.

"No," she disagreed. "You have a special name for her, one you've been using ever since she joined us, I think."

John chomped down on his lower lip and frowned. "I don't know. I can't remember," he confessed.

"What about Sikozu? What is it you call her all the time? And why?" she asked on. Her tone was very strict.

"I don't know. What does it matter anyway?" he asked back and leaned forward to rest his elbows on his knees as he put the bottle down on the low table. "Have I ever worked for a living?" he suddenly asked.

Aeryn stared at him for a moment. "What?" she asked quietly.

"I can't remember if I've ever worked for a living. I suppose I must have at some point. I just can't remember as what," he said and leaned back again, leaving the bottle where he had set it down.

"And that doesn't worry you?" she asked, her expression a mixture of surprise and concern now.

"Sure it does. I just don't think it's very important. I just wonder what else I may have forgotten lately," he countered. "What do you think?"

"What do I think?" Aeryn asked and shook her head in disbelief. "John, what's the first thing in your life that you remember?"

He stared at her for a few microts while he mulled that question over in his mind. Then he frowned. "I ... remember ... being sucked down a wormhole and arriving in the Uncharted Territories. I remember ramming Crais' brother's prowler. I think I remember everything after that too. Crais hunting me, Scorpius frelling with my mind, you being hurt, you leaving with the other me, Scorpius frelling some more with my mind, Grayza frelling with me as well, you coming back after having left me a second time. I remember the bioloid version of you and how I thought she was pregnant. I remember freeing you." He nodded. "Yup, that's pretty much everything."

Her expression had changed subtly. "Grayza frelling with you?" she asked. "What do you mean?"

He shrugged. "She's got this ... gland or whatever the frell it is. Heppel oil she called it. Works like an aphrodisiac or something. She was trying to make me give away that ... technology that's gone now. She wasn't successful, though," he explained.

"What the frell are you telling me here?" Aeryn asked with a deep frown furrowing her brow.

John made a face. "Nothing," he countered. "It's not important."

"Not important? John, what did she do to you?" she demanded.

He eyed her for a microt, then shrugged. "Nothing, Aeryn, okay? Nothing at all," he countered. "It's ancient history. I've got other things to worry about right now."

Aeryn rose abruptly. "Come on," she said and held a hand out to him.

He frowned at her outstretched hand. "Where are we going?" he asked and made no move to rise.

"To the med-unit. There's clearly something wrong here," she stated. "You don't remember your past, John. And you don't care about things I know would normally affect you strongly. There has to be something wrong."

"I do too remember my past," he countered and refused to get up by folding his arms over his chest.

"No, you don't," she claimed. "What's your home planet called?"

"I don't have one," he said abruptly.

"Yes, you do. What's your father's name? Your mother? Your sisters? Who was your best friend back there? Where is your home planet located?" she rattled off, not lowering her hand.

Something about those questions made him feel uncomfortable. He instantly decided that it was because he didn't remember any of it; not even a glimmer. Slowly, he rose, but ignored her still outstretched hand. "I ... don't remember," he said. Some part of him insisted that this was very bad, but he just couldn't really find it in him to care. It didn't really matter when it came down to it. She was talking about the past and there wasn't much he could do about it now, was there? She was talking about people he didn't remember at all and it made him feel hollow inside. He would rather not think about it and just get on with things.

"John, we need to get back to the med-unit and have you checked out. This is not good. You can't go on without knowing who you are," she said and finally dropped her hand. "Cholok only knows what it will do to you in the long run."

***

The med-unit

The medic checked John's readouts for the tenth time, frowned briefly, and then finally turned back to face the both of them. John was sitting on the examination table and so far he had said nothing.

Aeryn stood beside him, arms crossed over her chest, while she watched the medic impatiently. "So?" she asked. "What's the verdict?"

The medic made a face of sheer indecision. "Well ... essentially ... I can't tell that anything's wrong with him," he said and eyed John as if he were a particularly interesting specimen that needed closer inspection. "But, as I said before, I've never come across his species before, so it's a little hard for me to say what's right or wrong with him."

"That's just frelling great, isn't it?" Aeryn growled. "What about the chip in his brain? Is that thing still active?"

The medic sighed. "No, it is not. There is no power-readout from it at all. As it were, I'm surprised though that it has not caused more damage than it has. It has been fried. Essentially, it should have killed the surrounding tissue in his brain. That tissue, though, remains unaffected."

Aeryn sneered helplessly. "What the frell does that mean? I'm not a frelling medic. Why can't you techs ever speak so others can understand you?" she snapped.

"That means that it causes no harm any more," the medic explained patiently as if he were addressing a particularly difficult child. "We can try and remove it, but I would not advise it. Removing it might cause more damage than leaving it in."

"I just thought you said it could cause no harm," Aeryn countered.

"It can't. Not in its present condition, which is nothing. It is currently similar to him having a piece of shrapnel in his head that does no damage," the medic said and sighed again. Then he focused on John. "Apart from your early past you remember everything?" he asked.

"Pretty much," John replied and glanced at Aeryn. "Of course, if I've forgotten it, I won't know about it, will I?" he then asked.

"True," the medic agreed and stepped up to him. He shone a light in his eyes for a moment, then checked his neck. "Do you feel ill?"

"No, not at all. I've never felt better," John countered and cracked his neck when the medic stepped back.

"No depression because you can't remember your past?" the medic asked and continued to eye him thoughtfully.

"No, not at all," John repeated. "If anything, I feel a sense of relief, like a great burden has been lifted off my shoulders," he added.

Aeryn stared at him for a moment. Even though it did not sound good to her that he could not remember his past, essentially he was probably right that not being able to remember took a great load off his shoulders. But Aeryn could not dispel the sense of dread that rose in her whenever she thought of this change in him. His past was what had made him into the man he was; the caring, at times gentle man she had come to love. The thought of him not having that ballast any more made her feel cold inside. It was perhaps a stupid sensation, but she couldn't shake it.

"Once again, I cannot see that there is anything wrong with you. The loss of memory can be based on your near-death experience a few days back; or it can be because of the chip in your brain," the medic said and held up a hand when Aeryn opened her mouth to comment on that. "Removing it would probably aggravate the situation, if not kill his memory completely," he added. "I therefore suggest that we keep an eye on the chip for a weeken or two to see if it influences you further. If not, I suggest we leave it in. Otherwise we'll have to take a closer look at it and see what we can do about removing it."

John shrugged lightly. "Sounds good to me," he said and hopped off the table. "As I said, I've never felt better. It's like I've gotten a second lease on life," he added and glanced at Aeryn. "Nothing to worry about."

The medic took his leave of them while John pulled his jacket back on and finally turned to face her fully. "See? I'm doing fine. Nothing to worry about," he repeated, turned around and strode out of the examination room.

Aeryn lingered for a moment, then sighed. "They why am I worried?" she muttered under her breath and followed him.

***