The recovery room

Despite his previously encouraging words, D'Argo was uncertain about the outcome of all this. After they had been allowed in to see John, they had also been told that he would probably remain unconscious for awhile. All in all, the news was good. They had removed the chip, none of the brain tissue had been damaged in the process, and the chip itself – in it's dysfunctional state – had apparently put pressure on some neural pathways that the Diagnosian seemed to think were the reason for his lost memories. But still D'Argo could not shake the feeling that this wasn't going to have a happy ending.

Too many cycles on the run, too many mishaps, too much death and destruction had left him a bit cynical towards a happy outcome and that was probably partially the reason for that he felt so discouraged about this whole thing.

He stood at the foot of the bed and stared at John while his mind was overflowing with all these negative thoughts that kept crowding in on him. If John woke up with the same personality as he had displayed before he himself had knocked the Human out, all would be lost. And D'Argo somehow had the feeling that John wouldn't be himself when – and if – he did open his eyes again.

With a heartfelt sigh, he turned away from the bed and stepped over to the windows overlooking that part of the station. In essence, he knew that they had not yet seen the worst of it. But he would be damned if he knew what the outcome was going to be.

"Hey, he's awake," Chiana suddenly said.

D'Argo turned around and realized that she was right. John was awake and he was staring straight up at the ceiling. Aeryn leaned in over him with a smile. "Hey," she whispered.

John focused on her, then glanced around at Chiana and Sikozu and Rygel, who were all clustered around the bed, and then his gaze settled on D'Argo. For a long moment the two males just stared at each other and then John sighed and closed his eyes again.

An occasion like this should have been a happy one, but D'Argo merely felt his hearts sink. There had been no spark of recognition in John's eyes. None at all.

"He must be tired," Aeryn stated and straightened up again. "He's had a few grueling days." As she spoke, she focused on D'Argo and what he saw in her eyes was nothing short of a desperate plea to support her in this assumption. Against his better judgment, D'Argo nodded. What else could he do at this point?

"Chiana, Rygel, Sikozu. Let's go for a walk. I'm certain Aeryn would want to be alone with John for a while," he said. He suddenly had the overwhelming need to get out of this place, away from what he could only perceive as misery. It tore him up inside that this should be the outcome and he desperately hoped that he was wrong, that his assumption that this latest violation of his friend's mind had finally succeeded in killing his spirit.

The others obviously understood the underlying need in his voice and all followed suit as he marched out of the recovery room, leaving Aeryn behind to deal with whatever she felt she needed to do at this point.

***

An arn later

She had called the Diagnosian, had insisted on seeing both him and his translator, and now stood at the foot of John's bed while staring at both of them with nothing short of all-consuming anger. John was sitting up in bed, a dull expression in his eyes, while he seemingly stared at nothing.

Aeryn made a sweeping gesture at him. "What is wrong with him?" she demanded.

The translator, a half-Sebacean of some kind, eyed John for a microt, then turned his attention to the Diagnosian, seemingly awaiting the answer himself.

The Diagnosian regarded John for a long moment, then rattled off a long sentence of trills and clicks. The translator nodded at regular intervals, then turned his attention to Aeryn. "Diagot says that this is not uncommon and may right itself in time," he stated.

"Right itself?" Aeryn spat. "No, I want to know what the frell you did wrong," she added and very nearly snarled at the Diagnosian Diagot. "Granted, he was a few memories short before this, but you've completely cleared his mind of independent thoughts. What the frell went wrong?"

Diagot answered swiftly, waving his long-fingered hand at John, who seemed to have no interest in what was going on around him at all. The translator listened, then returned his attention to Aeryn. "Diagot says that this kind of thing is unpredictable, that he does not know this one's species and that it is therefore difficult for him to know exactly what kind of impact a treatment like this will have. He does however not believe that this state is permanent," he said, his tone a tad annoyed.

"Doesn't he now?" Aeryn growled. "And what the frell are we supposed to do in the meantime? And what if it doesn't right itself? What then?" She had many questions, but the most prominent one was when – if at all – this would right itself.

Diagot spoke again as he made his way around the bed and wrapped his large hands around John's face. John made no move to oppose him. Diagot examined him for a microt, then continued talking.

Aeryn stared at him while he spoke and tried hard not to let her already boiling temper get the better of her. Like it or not, she was rather dependent on Diagot's diagnosis. "What is he saying?" she snapped at the translator, who jerked and seemed to shrink a little at her anger.

"Diagot says that he is almost positive that it will right itself, but that he has no way of knowing how long it will take. In essence the Human is in good health and his brain is healed. He has good responses and will eat and drink when prompted. The rest is a matter of time," the translator said. "There is nothing more we can do here," he added.

"Then get the frell away from him and leave," she snapped and pointed angrily at the door.

The Diagnosian said something she needed no translation for. Instead, she slipped her hand onto the butt of her pulse pistol, thereby making it very clear what her intentions were if they did not leave. Diagot and his translator left immediately.

After a few moments, Aeryn finally relaxed her stance and returned her attention to John. He blinked sluggishly, focused briefly on her and then zoned out again. Aeryn stepped around the bed, settled on the edge and grabbed his left hand in both of hers. "I'm so sorry," she said. "I thought I was doing you a favor. Perhaps I should just have let you go. Or gone with you. At least you would be able to recognize me if I had done that." She shook her head sadly and tightened her grip on his hand. "This is so frelled. I wish I knew what to do."

And all the while John just sat there, his vacant eyes on nothing, his hand limp in hers. She had no idea if he could actually hear her and if he could, whether or not her words made any sense to him. All she could do was hope that the Diagnosian was right and that this would all go away eventually. One thing she promised herself and him, though. No matter how long it took, she would be by his side every step of the way. John had suffered enough and he had been abandoned too often. She was not going to leave him again; not for anything.

***

Stug's office

Stug had been updated on Crichton's situation and was not at all happy about the outcome. She felt responsible, knew that she partially was, and it annoyed her beyond reason that her people could not undo what they had done. Despite herself, she had to admit that she had grown to like that odd Human. He seemed so much like a Sebacean and then not. His ethics were quite different and so were his manners. Well ... they had been before that frelled Ancient had gotten her hands on him. And she, Stug, had taken him there, believing that she was helping him.

With a sigh, she leaned back in her seat and closed her eyes. Why was it that when everything seemed to be going fine, it turned out that nothing was? She shook her head, leaned forward again and tried to refocus on the work at hand. There was much involved in running a station of this size and at the same time ensuring that the station remained anonymous and hidden. But her attention towards matters that should be urgent was waning. She could not stop thinking about what was in store for them next.

Before she could even think of expanding on that thought, there was a knock on the door. One of her people, she assumed, since the only ones so far who had never bothered to knock on her door were Crichton and Sun. "Enter," she called.

One of her com-techs stepped in. The man was a Sebacean and had once been a Peacekeeper. A faulty engine had landed him at this end of the UTs and someone from the station had picked him up after intercepting his distress call. At first, he had been utterly opposed to this station's existence and Stug had struggled with the choice she had to face with basically every living soul who stepped through her doors – kill him to protect the station or give him a chance. She had decided on giving him a chance and had not regretted it since. Nor, it seemed, had he. He was steady as a rock, always hard-working and generally a well-liked man. Now he was downright fidgety, though.

"Yes?" she asked when he made no move to speak on his own.

"Station-head Stug," he said and made a face out of sheer nervousness. "We have a problem. A big one," he added, stepped forward and held out a rolled-up flimsy to her.

Stug frowned briefly, waved at the chair in front of her desk and took the flimsy. She read through it meticulously, well aware that he would not be wasting her time for nothing. The flimsy contained a printout of whatever channels Karran was keeping an eye on at the moment and, although it sounded ominous, Stug wanted to be sure she was reading it right. "Explain," she said and looked up to meet his skittish gaze.

"I've been observing some of the lesser Peacekeeper channels lately and that came in on one of them. There is a lot of Peacekeeper activity in this sector and apparently ... according to that ... we're getting company. And soon," Karran replied.

The station-head made a face at the obvious truth behind his words. "How soon is soon?" she asked.

"I'd suggest that the station's defenses be raised immediately. From what I could ascertain, it's a matter of arns, maybe solardays if we're lucky," Karran said.

Stug nodded. "Thank you for the warning," she said, tapped her desk and then pressed her palm down on a palmreader. "The station is now on full alert," she added.

Karran released a sigh of relief. Stug knew that one of his biggest issues with the Peacekeepers had been that the leadership never took the words of a lowly soldier like himself for granted. Stug was not going to make that mistake. Too many lives depended on her willingness to see a threat for what it was.

"Go back to your station and keep an eye out for more trouble. Let me know as soon as you know more," she said and rose.

"Yes, station-head Stug," Karran said, rose and saluted her before striding out of her office again.

Stug couldn't help a smile. It just went to prove that you could take the man out of the Peacekeepers, but you could not take the Peacekeeper out of the man. Her smile turned grim immediately when the com-station started flashing with multiple lights. There were section heads who wanted to know what this full alert was about.

***

The med-unit

The medics had released John from the med-unit and Aeryn was at a loss. He stood up by himself, but he did not respond to her in any other way than occasionally looking at her and generally he just stared straight ahead. He made no move to speak or do anything on his own, though.

"John?" she asked and eyed him with a light frown. In some ways, this was far worse than anything that had ever been done to him. This lifeless being he had been turned into made her feel sick. She grabbed his face with both hands and he focused on her. "Do you understand me at all?" All he did was stare back at her for a microt before he zoned out again.

"Frell," she muttered, then grabbed his coat and got him into it. He didn't resist her, but he didn't help her either. She squatted down and laced his boots, then rose again, took his hand and pulled him with her. He moved when prompted and that made it easier, of course, but she hated seeing him like this.

They made it halfway back to their present lodging when an all-out alert started blaring. Aeryn stopped and looked around to see how others might respond to it since she had no idea what it meant. The few people on the streets stopped to listen briefly and then hurried off in other directions than the ones they'd been heading in at the time the alert had started.

Aeryn decided that getting back to the apartment was probably the best course of action for now. From there, she could contact Stug and find out what the frell was going on. With a bad feeling brewing in the pit of her stomach, she pulled John along with her back to the apartment and – once inside – released his hand and steered straight to the comm-unit.

She punched Stug's extension and was met by a busy signal. "Frell," she muttered and glanced back at John, who stood where she had left him. "John, come over here," she tried. He just stared at her. "Double frell," she added, strode over to him, grabbed his arm and pulled him with her back to the comm-unit, which was still blinking with the busy signal.

Uncertain of what to do next, she just stood there and stared at the screen, silently counting the microts and wishing that John would take her hand to reassure her. It was unnerving to her that she felt his arm under her hand, but not his presence in the room. Occasionally, she caught herself glancing back to make sure he was really there and every time she met that vacant stare of his, she flinched.

Before she could consider further action, the door opened and D'Argo strode in, followed by Chiana, Sikozu and Rygel. "There you are. We've been searching all over for you," D'Argo claimed, then fixed his gaze on John. "John, how are you feeling?" he asked.

It was apparent that he was hoping that the reason for that Aeryn had brought him back to the apartment was because he was back to normal. "There's no change," Aeryn said as she turned around to face them.

"Then why the frell is he here?" D'Argo demanded, his tone telling her that he was shocked more than angry. "Is he even able to do anything for himself?"

Aeryn just stared at him for a microt, then sighed and glanced at John. "No, not a thing. But they could do no more for him there and I want him with me," she replied sadly.

"What was that siren about before?" Chiana inserted.

"I don't know," Aeryn confessed. "I am trying to get through to Stug, but her line is busy. There must be something going on. I just don't know what."

"Maybe it's a drill?" Rygel suggested. "Like a fire drill?"

The others glanced at him. "Could be," D'Argo agreed and glanced at Aeryn, who shrugged. She had no idea what it was and assumed the same.

"That was not a fire drill," Sikozu said, her tone slightly overbearing. "That was an overall alert. It's a common sound on a station like this, hidden or not."

Aeryn frowned at her as the others turned around to face her. "An overall alert? For what?" Aeryn demanded.

"The station is probably going to be under attack some time soon," Sikozu countered.

Just then, the comm-unit behind Aeryn beeped, indicating that the connection had been established. Aeryn turned back to face it and the image of Stug. "Officer Sun. I am assuming that you are worried about the alert?" Stug asked.

"Yes, I am. What the frell was that about?" Aeryn countered.

"It is an overall alert. There is heightened Peacekeeper activity in this sector and we cannot rule out that they are heading our way. The estimate at the moment is two solardays before they arrive, but I am not willing to take any chances," Stug explained.

"Nor should you," D'Argo inserted.

"Agreed," Aeryn said. "How big is the possibility of them knowing where we are?"

"Fairly big," Stug replied. "After realizing that the activity had risen in this sector, we checked back over our logs to find any possible source of a signal from this station and we found it." The station-head paused for a moment and then she made a face. "A few days ago, a signal was launched from this station, a distress call if you like, which we did not detect before because it did not appear to be dangerous. It originated from the med-unit. At approximately the same time as the Ancient female destroyed the chip in Crichton's brain completely. I have had some techs check the chip and it appears to have a built-in failsafe that launches a distress call from the chip in case of damage."

Aeryn just stared at the screen for a microt or two. "Are you telling me that this frelling chip has called Scorpius here?" she asked quietly.

"Yes, that is what I am telling you. Nobody holds Crichton responsible for this, of course, but we have been compromised. The station is being locked down right now so we can move it. But I am afraid we may be out of time. It takes a full solarday to lock everything down, but I doubt we have that much time," Stug replied.

"Frell," Aeryn muttered. "Please keep us posted. And destroy that frelling chip," she then said and switched the connection off again before Stug could say anything more. She turned back to face the others and saw her own thoughts reflected back at her in their eyes. Even Sikozu looked nervous. "Looks like this stay is over," she added.

"The sooner we leave here the better," Sikozu said and glanced toward the windows of the dwelling as if the Peacekeepers were already here, ready to break down the door.

"I agree," D'Argo said.

"Yeah, me too," Chiana chipped in.

"That makes four of us," Rygel inserted.

"Good," Aeryn countered. "Let's pack our things and be on the way. D'Argo, could you alert Pilot and Moya that we're coming?"

"Certainly," he agreed and strode over to the comm-unit to make the call.

"Not on an open channel, D'Argo. You never know who might be listening in," Aeryn said and grabbed his arm as he tried to pass her.

Their eyes met for a moment and the Luxan nodded with a grave expression on his face. "Of course," he agreed, turned around and strode out of the apartment instead.

Aeryn turned her attention to the small Hynerian. "Rygel, I'm certain you've amassed a lot of 'stuff' you want to bring, so get on it."

Rygel nodded and sped out the door too.

"Chiana, Sikozu, look after John. I need to go have a word with Stug before we leave. Don't let him out of your sight, no matter what," she added and waved a finger threateningly at the girls. "He seems docile now, but it may not last."

Chiana nodded eagerly, but Sikozu did not look happy. Aeryn gave her a warning glare. "Be here when I get back or you get left behind," she added. With that, she herself strode out the door, intent on having a final word with Stug without letting the female know exactly what they had in mind.

***

Aeryn was halfway to the office level when the first shock hit the station. It was strong enough to nearly throw her off her feet and Aeryn knew the impact of a frag canon when she felt it, and this was definitely it. She staggered sideways into a wall and was met with the undisciplined wails of fear that issued toward her from all corners only a split microt after the first impact had shook the station. The frightened inhabitants came storming out of their dwellings a mere split microt later.

The second impact landed Aeryn flat on her stomach and she hissed an angry curse before pushing up on her hands and knees and struggling back to her feet as the station shook under continued bombardment. "So much for cloaking devices," she growled under her breath, turned around and headed back the way she'd come through suddenly overcrowded passageways. Whatever Stug might have to say to this was no longer any of her concern. Her top priority was to get her friends out of here as fast as somehow possible.

A familiar siren started wailing, rippling through the station and giving Aeryn a flashback she could do without. Countless times on the command carrier she had grown up on, that selfsame siren had sounded when they were under attack. Only, this station was not nearly as well protected against the quadruple-barreled frag canons of a full command carrier and judging by the impacts following so close together, there was more than one command carrier out there.

With every impact, the station groaned. Lights started to flicker, water mains broke open and started spraying their contents into the passageways, girders started wrenching lose and fell on buildings and hapless victims, but Aeryn's main concern was the transparent dome above them. It looked so brittle now and although it was reinforced and also protected by an inner force field, none of that would do any good the moment the main supports gave in.

While she ran – at times awkwardly – back towards the apartment, she hoped that these people could save themselves. From the amount of vessels she had seen in the landing area, there was no doubt that there were enough crafts out there to take everybody to safety, but with at least two command carriers standing by and no doubt an unending swarm of prowlers and marauders, not many of them would get past the defense line.

Aeryn went over this area in space in her mind while she pushed through the crowds running for safety, and made a decision that could either get them all killed or save their collective eemas. Whichever it was remained to be seen.

She reached the apartment and pushed the door open by hand. The power was out in this sector, yet Chiana and Sikozu were still there, waiting for her as she had told them to. John sat on a chair, staring straight ahead of himself, and there was no indication that there had been any change in his condition since she had left.

"Get your things together and let's move," Aeryn ordered the two girls, who followed her orders without a word.

Aeryn grabbed her duffle, always packed and ready to go, and for the first time was grateful that John had decided to make a run for it before they had caught him. That meant his duffle was packed as well. She threw that to Chiana, then grabbed John's upper right arm and hoisted him off the chair. "Time to leave, John," she said, well aware that he probably did not understand or care what was happening.

The four of them left the apartment again and were swept along with the crowd moving swiftly and – to Aeryn's surprise – rather orderly towards the landing area. Although there were many anxious and downright scared individuals among the escapees, most of them remained calm enough to make this escape anything but hazardous.

By the time they were almost halfway there, they were met by D'Argo and Rygel, both who had nothing to carry. D'Argo took the duffels from Aeryn and Chiana. Nobody asked any questions. All they did was head directly for the landing bays.

Once there, though, it was obvious that the station was no longer invisible to the surrounding space. The bays had been hit bad. Ships were taking off in a steady stream and a great deal of the firepower used against the station was aimed at the landing bays.

They started dodging debris that rained down on them and along the way several people of various races had been injured or were dead. Aeryn maintained a deadly grip on John's arm and dragged him along. And amidst all this havoc she had to admit that she was glad he wasn't mentally present. They would never have made it off this station otherwise. His need to help others in need was always overwhelming.

With a flinch, Aeryn acknowledged that she had for even the briefest microt been grateful for his present condition and that made her want to punish herself harshly. What the frell was wrong with her? If there was one thing she had learned from John, whichever version she thought of, then it had to be that there was nothing good in seeing a loved one wither away.

She stopped short, thereby preventing herself from being squashed under another girder that hit the ground with a resounding crash right in front of her.

"We have to get the frell off this station, Aeryn," D'Argo hollered over the noise of the attack and the collapsing station. "It's coming apart around our ears."

"I know that," she yelled back over the racket. "But we also have to be careful. Is Moya ready to leave?"

"The microt we're on board," D'Argo agreed with a nod and scanned the immediate area. "Pilot told me a few moments ago that he knows a way out of here that will take us in the opposite direction of the three command carriers and the prowlers," he added.

Aeryn nodded. "I think I know what he has in mind," she replied and then nodded toward one of the entrances to the bays beyond. "Let's go that way. It looks more stabile."

They started moving again, faster than before, all of them nearly running. John was keeping up, but only as long as Aeryn had a hold on his arm. The microt she released him, he stopped moving.

They almost made it through the opening before the whole thing started to cave in around them. Metal girders fell from the ceiling together with shrapnel and other kinds of debris and with a resounding screech, the carrying structure of the doorway gave in, coming down around them so fast Aeryn didn't have time to think.

She dove for safety and nearly made it too. Her right foot was caught under one of the girders. The impact slammed her face down onto the floor and, a bit dazed, she took a microt to regain her composure. Then she glanced over one shoulder back at the pile of rubble that she had so narrowly escaped. At that point two things occurred to her. One was that D'Argo and Chiana and Rygel had made it through in one piece. The other was that both John and Sikozu were nowhere in sight.

Angrily, she kicked the girder pinning her right foot to the floor until it released its hold on her and then she climbed back to her feet, favoring her right foot while she scanned the darkened area where the door opening had been. "Frell," she snapped and limped up to it, trying to spot John in the middle of all this.

"Over there," D'Argo called and pointed toward the left side of the pile. The shocking red curls against the black and silver of the rubble stood out like a beacon.

Aeryn limped around the pile to join D'Argo in the effort to dig the obviously unconscious Kalish out of the pile. Her right arm had come off at the shoulder, but being what she was, it should not pose a problem to return it to its rightful place. D'Argo grabbed the lithe female and hoisted her out of the rubble and at that point, Aeryn gained a new level of respect for Sikozu, because it became very apparent that the Kalish had attempted to protect John from the collapsing structure by throwing herself on top of him. It had not prevented him from getting hurt, but it might have prevented him from getting killed.

Aeryn glanced at Sikozu, who was waking up but seemed very dazed, and then returned her attention to John. There was blood. He was lying face down in the rubble, one arm underneath a girder, and half his right leg as well. "Chiana, give me a hand," Aeryn ordered.

The Nebari joined her in her efforts to dig John out of the rubble and they managed eventually. "Frell, he's hit his head," Chiana said quietly.

Aeryn saw the bleeding gash on the back of his head at the same time as Chiana said it and merely nodded. "Help me get him up," she said.

Together, they managed to drag him free of the rubble and all Aeryn could think of was that she needed to find a pulse, a sign that he was still alive. When she pressed her fingers against his neck, she realized how afraid she was of what she would find. But the pulse she found was slow and steady and she exhaled slowly.

"Let's get the frell out of here," D'Argo insisted. "You two help Sikozu. I'll take care of John," he added, grabbed the unconscious Human and draped him over one shoulder. "Let's go!"

Aeryn and Chiana helped Sikozu to her feet and Chiana made sure the Kalish's right arm remained where it was.

The trip to the pod was hazardous at best. More times than Aeryn could count, they had near misses. The pod, however, stood remarkably untouched when they finally reached it, but Aeryn was in no mood to marvel at the unexplainable and ushered the others inside. She was the last to climb the steps and at that point, her hair had started flapping in the wind rushing through the station. Aeryn knew what it meant. The dome had been breached and the air of the station was escaping out into the void.

She hauled herself up the steps, pulled herself inside the pod and slapped a hand against the control. The door slid shut and the increased wind pressure ceased. With no time to lose, she rushed to the front and threw herself into the pilot's seat. "Hold onto something," she advised the others. "This is going to be a bumpy ride."

The pod rose off its pad and she turned it around in midair. "Pilot, do you read me?" she inquired.

"Yes, Aeryn, I read you," Pilot replied instantly.

"Get ready for immediate take-off. We're on our way. Can Moya starburst as soon as we're on board?" she countered.

"Not in this close proximity of the command carriers, but we should have a fairly good chance of getting away. There are six other leviathans here and they're all ready to take off now," Pilot replied.

"Good," Aeryn pressed out and ripped the pod over on its side to avoid floating debris.

As soon as they were out of the bay, they spotted Moya immediately. The leviathan was slowly pulling away from her docking supports and the umbilical cord connected to her tore off when she had moved far enough back. Only then did she start to turn. Aeryn guided the pod towards her and pushed it for all it could give to keep up with the increased speed of the leviathan.

"Pilot, can you catch us with the dockingweb? I don't think we can catch up to you otherwise," she called.

"Deploying dockingweb now," Pilot replied.

The pod jolted and the speed increased along with Moya's hap-hazardous escape. Instead of following the other ships that streamed out of the station in a desperate attempt to escape, Moya dove downwards and made her way under the collapsing station instead. It was dangerous, but also their only true route of escape.

The three command carriers were clustered around one side of the station and kept bombarding the remains. Explosions rippled through the increasingly unsteady structure. The dome had collapsed and the station itself looked like it was about ready to break in two.

Before Aeryn could see more, the dockingweb pulled the pod inside Moya's bay and that was the last they saw of the station. As soon as it settled, Aeryn was up and running for the exit, not caring about her sore foot. "Pilot, we're in," she yelled.

"I know, Aeryn," Pilot replied. "Hold on. We're starbursting now," he added.

Aeryn just barely managed to grab onto the corner of the door opening of the pod before starburst hit them.

***