On Balroc

Balroc the Leviathan had not only been modified on the outside. His insides looked rather different from both Moya and Talyn. John wouldn't have thought of the inside of a leviathan if he hadn't known he was on one.

The moment he stepped off the pod he was surrounded by soldiers, all aiming their weapons at him. To appease them, he folded his hands behind his head and allowed them to disarm him.

What struck him immediately was that the majority of the soldiers were female. There were the odd males here and there, but most of them were women. He couldn't immediately understand why that was and it didn't really matter anyway.

Captain Tonga appeared at the entrance to the bay and he was somewhat surprised to realize that she was taller than him. She looked like a real powerhouse, not someone he would want to antagonize, and the twitchy nervousness was more like dangerous paranoia up close.

She stepped forward and folded her arms over her chest, her lips slightly pursed. If she hadn't looked so much like a potential serial killer with that dangerous glint in her eyes and an air of distrust about her, she could be considered pretty. She was just a little bit too butch for his liking.

"At ease," she said and her soldiers backed down. She glanced at one of them. "Did he give you any trouble?" she asked.

"No, none at all," the man said and handed her John's pulse pistols.

She eyed them for a moment, then raised her gaze to meet his dead on. "Two pistols?" she asked.

"Covering all bases," he countered.

"You can use both at once?" she asked on.

He arched an eyebrow at her. "Yeah, of course. There wouldn't be much sense in having two if I couldn't use them both at once," he replied and smiled vaguely. "So, am I under arrest here or what?"

Without delay her demeanor changed. The suspicion fell off her like a cloak as she handed him both pistols back and he finally lowered his arms again to receive them. "No, of course not. Forgive our hostility, but we cannot be too cautious. Our presence here is supposed to be a secret. The fact that you seemingly knew where to go ... worries us."

John fished the chip out of his pocket and held it out to her. "My friend ... the one I'm looking for ... was given this on a command carrier about a cycle ago," he said. "I'm assuming it's some sort of invitation?"

Captain Tonga eyed the chip, then took it and turned it over between her fingers a few times. "Yes, it is," she agreed and returned her gaze to him. "Which command carrier?"

"Sorry?" he asked, taken a little by surprise.

"On which command carrier did your friend get this one and why do you have it if you're looking for this friend here?" she asked.

"Uh ... well, the command carrier belonged to ... Scorpius. At that time. But it doesn't exist any more," he said. "I think it originally belonged to Captain Crais."

Captain Tonga nodded. "Yes, we have heard of that ... incident. It is said that you single-handedly destroyed the command carrier along with fifty percent of its occupants at the time."

He couldn't immediately discern if she believed that story or not. "No," he disagreed. "I did not single-handedly destroy the command carrier. I didn't destroy it at all. Crais did. He and his ... leviathan Talyn starburst inside the carrier."

Tonga arched an eyebrow. "That would destroy the integrity of the hull," she agreed. "Impressive," she added. "Stupid, but impressive."

"Yeah, tell me about it," John agreed.

She tilted her head to one side and eyed him thoughtfully for a moment. "So, you're John Crichton," she said. It was a statement more than anything, but he nodded nonetheless. "Are you aware of how much trouble you are causing in Peacekeeper ranks just by existing?"

Uncertainty began to assert itself. He wasn't entirely sure these guys were anti-PKs after all. She sounded a little annoyed about the trouble he was causing and he knew this situation could turn ugly in a split second. "No, I didn't know I was causing much of a stir," he said. "I thought the only one who saw me as a nuisance was Scorpius."

Tonga smiled for the first time. "Oh no. High Command is well aware of your presences. They do consider you to be nothing more than a nuisance, though. It is Scorpius who has a very high opinion of you," she said. "You have doubled our numbers since appearing in this part of space, John Crichton. You have given people hope for a different life by being a thorn in High Command's side."

Still uncertain about whether this might still turn ugly, he eyed her suspiciously for a moment. "And ... that's a good thing?" he asked.

Tonga relaxed visibly and nodded with that smile still on her lips. "Yes, that is a very good thing," she agreed. "Come. Let us get more comfortable."

John pursed his lips. "Alrighty. Let's," he agreed and followed her.

***

On Moya

D'Argo paced back and forth in Command, stopped occasionally to glare at the image of Balroc before resuming his pacing. "How long?" he asked and glanced back at Chiana and Rygel.

"The Commander has merely been gone a quarter of an arn. Half that time was how long it took him to reach the other leviathan," Pilot said. "I pick up no hostility from the male. I do not believe we are in any immediate danger."

"Excellent," D'Argo growled. "In the meantime, John has walked right into the middle of a bunch of heavily armed ex-Peacekeepers. Forgive me for not liking this situation."

"Relax, D'Argo," Chiana said and held a hand out in his general direction. "If anything was going wrong, it would have happened by now. You know Crichton. He's an expert at escalating situations." She chuckled lightly at what she obviously perceived to be a joke.

D'Argo huffed and stopped pacing. Instead he remained where he was, feet splayed, arms crossed over his chest and stared at the viewscreen.

***

On Balroc

Tonga led the way into a rather extravagant room at the very top of Balroc, which basically reminded John of the officer's lounge on the command carrier. There was food and drink and people sitting around chatting. The only noticeable difference was that the atmosphere was anything but hostile. A few of the people already present glanced their way, but most didn't even notice them.

Tonga led the way across the room to an empty table and sat down while nodding at the chair opposite. "Have a seat," she said.

John settled down on the chair while glancing around the room. "Uh ... I need to contact the others to let them know everything's all right. I told them to get out of here in quarter of an arn if they didn't hear back from me."

"Go ahead. Comms are open," Tonga said, nodding at the comm-badge stuck to his vest.

With a slight frown, John tapped the comm. "D'Argo, pick up the phone," he said.

"John! Are you all right?" D'Argo's voice came through loud and clear.

"Yup, buddy. Just fine. Kick back and cool your heels for a bit. I'm gonna have a little chat with the captain here," he said, all the while never taking his attention off Tonga, who in turn watched him with slight indifference.

"Are you certain? This is not another command carrier incident?" D'Argo asked.

'Ever the diplomat', John thought and grinned crookedly. "No, no command carrier incident. We're cool. I won't be long I hope. I'll give you a shout when I'm heading back," he said and tapped the comm-badge off again. "He's such a worrywart," he said to Tonga.

"Apparently," she agreed.

"So," John said and glanced around. "This is one hell of a leviathan you've got here," he added. No matter how pressing his business was, he could not help but be impressed by the sheer bulk of this creature.

"Well, we don't 'have' him, per se," Tonga replied. "He is helping us out of his own free will."

"How nice of him," John said and leaned back on his chair. "How do you convince a leviathan this size to help you out?"

Tonga folded her hands, rested her lower arms on the table top and leaned forward a little. "We saved him from bondage. Peacekeepers tracked us here. They were going to use Balroc to destroy us. But Balroc's pilot was not playing along. That gave us a chance to board and destroy the Peacekeepers keeping him captive. We removed the control collar and Balroc along with his pilot both suggested that they stay and help us fight the oppression that is Peacekeeper High Command. Naturally, we accepted."

"Who wouldn't have?" John countered. He opened his mouth to say more, but stopped short when a sudden rumble ran through the entire leviathan. The rumble rose to what sounded suspiciously like a low-key growl from a very big animal. Immediately concerned, he glanced around, but nobody else seemed to pay any attention to the sound. "What the hell is that?" he asked instead, returning his attention to Tonga.

"That's Balroc," Tonga said with a smile. "Apparently, he has something to say to your leviathan. I'm assuming yours is female?"

John just stared at her for a moment, then nodded. "I didn't think ... leviathans were vocal," he finally said.

"The females aren't. But the males are," Tonga said. "Now, I assume that you did not come all the way to the core of the galaxy to talk about leviathans?"

John shook his head, briefly glanced up at the ceiling that was still vibrating slightly from the voice of Balroc, then refocused on his host. "No ... uh ... not really," he said. "Our missing friend ... I'm looking for Aeryn Sun. About a cycle ago, she set out to find you guys and I'm of course hoping that she did find you and that you might know where she is."

Tonga frowned lightly and that was already a bad sign. "Aeryn Sun?" she asked and John nodded. "The ex-Peacekeeper who travels with you?"

"Well, traveled is more like it," he corrected her.

"Our intelligence reported that she had rejoined you about half a cycle ago," Tonga said and shattered the last remnants of hope he'd had of finding her among them.

"Well ... that's what we thought. But ... it wasn't her," John replied and sighed heavily. "Damn. I had hoped she would be here or that you'd at least know where she might be."

"I'm sorry. She has not been here, nor have we heard anything of where she might be. How could you not know if it was her who returned to you?" Tonga asked.

John made a face. "Well ... that's a good question. Now, afterwards, I'm beating myself up about it, because there were signs. But ..."

"Signs? She hadn't been gone that long, had she?" Tonga asked, obviously a little confused about what he was saying.

"Oh, no, she hadn't. But someone had copied her, made a bioloid of her. Pretty good likeness. It fooled the lot of us for half a cycle. Until her battery pack ran out," he explained.

"A bioloid?" Tonga frowned. "I must admit to having a great aversion to bioloids," she said. "So, do you have any idea who might have created her? The Scarrans, perhaps?"

John sighed again. "Well, that was my first thought. But I don't think so. It's a long story, would be too confusing to retell, but I am positive that the Scarrans are not behind this one. I am more inclined to believe that it's Scorpius. But for all I know, he has no idea how to create bioloids, let alone one as advanced as this one."

Tonga pursed her lips thoughtfully. "Well, then you may as well revise that opinion, because Scorpius has perfected the bioloid design down to a point," she said. "He has created several that managed to fool body scans and even blood and tissue sampling-scans."

John stared at her for a long moment, then sat up straighter. "So, essentially you're telling me that Scorpius could have done this? He could have copied her to such perfection that I wouldn't know the difference?"

"That is what I'm saying," Tonga agreed. "So, if you're looking for the original ... I'd start looking there."

With a thoughtful nod, John leaned forward a little. "I guess I'm gonna have to. I'm just afraid ... that she may not be alive any more."

Tonga's lips twitched into a half-smile. "Well, I cannot guarantee anything, of course," she said, "but Scorpius is - in Peacekeeper ranks - known for not throwing anything away. And you cannot duplicate a dead body. So ... essentially, I would assume that she is still alive."

Although he had not found what he had hoped for, he had found a new lead. It was beginning to annoy him a little that everything led back to Scorpius these days. The last thing he wanted was to get within reach of that bastard, but as he could not imagine ever leaving Aeryn in Scorpius' clutches, he would have to find a way to get close enough to figure out if Scorpius had her or not.

"How the hell do I get close enough to him to find out if he's got her and avoid being caught at the same time?" he asked. It was a reflective question, one he didn't really expect Tonga to answer.

"That is a tricky situation," she agreed.

"Especially since he seems to be invulnerable," John added.

"Invulnerable?" Tonga asked, surprised. "He is not invulnerable."

John focused on her again. "Well, apart from removing the cooling rod from his head, which I'd rather not do if I can avoid it," he said and struggled to suppress a shudder, "how else can you kill that bastard? He was shot in the chest and buried and still he came back."

Tonga appeared to think that was a little bit funny. "Well, he is half Scarran," she said.

"Yeah?" John asked, not seeing the connection.

"Scarrans heal exceptionally fast. It has something to do with their heat glands. Scorpius is not invulnerable, Crichton. He is clever. But you can kill him. Quite easily," she said.

John stared at her, hoping against hope that she would volunteer the information freely. But he knew better than that. Nothing in this universe came for free. You always had to pay a price for it. "How?"

Tonga eyed him, then leaned back on her chair and pursed her lips again. "I will give you the information in return for your help," she said.

Suspicion exploded inside him immediately and he just knew what she would ask for. "My help?" he asked nonetheless. "How can I possibly help you?"

"We have a goal, Crichton. We are not just trying to make up for all the mishaps the Peacekeepers make. We want the Peacekeepers as a whole to return to the values that we started out with. To help keep the peace. Not to overwhelm the galaxy and eradicate all we do not understand," she said. "We don't have much in terms of weapons. We have never gained the upper hand because we are, essentially and materially, inferior to Peacekeeper High Command. We need an edge. And you're it."

"No," he said with a light shake of the head. "I am not giving you the wormhole tech. Not now, not ever. I don't know you guys, I don't know what you stand for or if you're honest about it. All I know is that in the wrong hands, this technology can destroy the universe. And I have the feeling that I wasn't given it to see that come about."

Tonga nodded thoughtfully. "Then I am sorry. I cannot give you the information you're after if you are not willing to help us stop this plague that the Peacekeepers have become," she said and rose. "Did it ever occur to you that all the things that have happened to you since you came to this part of the universe have been leading up to this very moment? I know you are paranoid and with good reason too. I do not blame you for it. And we will not force you to give us the technology. If it is not given freely, it is too dangerous to use."

John rose too, a little confused about her approach and more than a little annoyed that she was not willing to help him save Aeryn. "Look, Captain, I understand your predicament. Trust me, I do. But I do not want to get involved in a full-scale war with the Peacekeepers. All I want is to save Aeryn. All I want is to be left the hell alone."

"I realize that," Tonga said and he was in no doubt that she did understand his predicament. "But ... we are desperate. Not so desperate that we would force you to give up the information, but desperate enough to withhold the information from you that you seek in the hope of persuading you to help us. If you help us, we will help you."

"Help me? Are you saying you guys would go up against a command carrier?" he asked and spread out his arms. "I mean, this is one big leviathan, no doubt about that. But is it a match for a command carrier? I doubt it."

"Balroc is not the only leviathan we have. We are not the only crew, Crichton. There are thousands of us," Tonga said quietly.

John let his arms drop and stared at her. The offer was enticing. He had to admit that. And wasn't Aeryn's life more important than the damn technology? Torn between what he wanted to do and what he felt he had to do, he didn't know what to say.

"Return to your leviathan. Think about it. I will start some inquiries, perhaps track down Sun for you. If you choose to help us, we will help you free her," Tonga said.

John made a face and balled his hands into fists. Indecision was making him tense. He had no idea what the others would say to this, but he assumed he did need some time to think about it. "All right," he agreed. "I'll think about it. In the meantime, I could use a little show of good faith."

Tonga gave him a curt nod. "Name your price," she said.

"We have a Nebari on board. She's blind," he said.

"A Nebari?" Tonga asked and he nodded. "Send her over. We will take a look at her, see if we can help her in any way."

John nodded. "Thanks," he said and followed Tonga out of the lounge again and back to the bay. If they came through and gave Chiana her vision back without demanding anything in return, he would consider this whole deal more carefully. Essentially, he knew what the outcome would be, but he needed some time and silence to contemplate the deeper aspects of this before he gave Tonga his answer.

He stopped at the foot of the ladder of the pod and glanced back at Tonga. "You're not out to rule the universe?" he asked.

Tonga stared at him, her expression remaining serious. "No. We have no interest in ruling the universe," she said.

He nodded once, didn't know if he believed that yet, and turned back to the pod. "I'll think about it," he promised without looking back and ascended the ladder. He would think about it and he knew what decision he would reach. In the end, there really was only one solution, wasn't there?

***

On Moya

D'Argo stopped outside the maintenance bay and watched John sitting on the worktable, legs dangling, head down, while he contemplated whatever that Captain Tonga had said to him. All John had said upon arrival was that Aeryn was not among them but that they might help them find her for a prize. Then he had said he needed to think about it and had withdrawn to this bay and had been there since.

"Any news?" D'Argo asked and stepped inside. It had been arns since John had gone down here and although Chiana had asked him not to and Rygel had shown very little interest in this situation in general, D'Argo was getting tired of waiting.

John raised his head and eyed him for a moment, then let out a deep sigh and dropped his head again. "No," he said quietly.

"To be honest, John, we are all getting a little tired of waiting. What the frell happened over there?" D'Argo asked. "Did they threaten you? Is that it? Do they have Aeryn and won't part with her for whatever reason?"

John sighed again, then raised his head once more and pressed his lips together into a thin line. The look in his eyes remained distant though, and D'Argo was not at all sure the Human had heard him. "Aeryn's not here. They don't know where she is, but they're trying to locate her," John said and finally focused on D'Argo. "They said they'd help find her ... if I give them the wormhole tech."

"We're back to that again, are we?" D'Argo asked, picked up a tool from the workbench and inspected it without interest. "The wormhole tech?"

"Yup," John agreed. "That seems to be the only thing everybody wants. And it's the only thing I ... can't ... give." He paused, closed his eyes and sighed again. "But I'll have to ... if I want to find Aeryn. Chances are that Scorpius has her. If he does, he's not gonna want to part with her until I give him ... wormhole tech. I'm not about to do that, though, because there is no doubt in my mind that he will shaft the universe with it. He's all holy about his motives, but I know him. By now, I know him. And he's gonna kill everybody, starting with the Scarrans because he just doesn't like them."

"I think you are right about that," D'Argo agreed and put the tool back down. Instead, he stared ahead of himself, past the walls of Moya and into an uncertain future that was constantly in flux. "So what are you going to do?"

"See, that's the problem. If I give these guys the wormhole tech, what are they gonna do with it? I don't know them. I don't know if I can trust them. Tonga seems sincere, but is she? I've been wrong about people before. No matter how much I'd like to believe that I'm good at reading others, I'm not. So, let's say I don't give them wormhole tech. I contact her, I tell her 'no deal', and they open fire? We're toast." He slipped off the workbench and stuffed his hands into his pockets. "If I give it to them, they may decide we're not worth the risk. And we're toast. They are former Peacekeepers. They probably still live by many of their old standards." Again, he paused and made a face. "So, let's say we tell them 'no deal', we get out of here, find out where Aeryn is and go in to get her. Scorpy's gonna know. He probably put another chip in my head, a tracking device or some crap like that. He'll know I'm coming. Ergo, we're toast. If the Scarrans get a hold of me, we're toast." He threw his hands up, getting more and more agitated while he spoke. "No matter how I turn and twist it, it always ends in disaster. My plans suck. I'm not a tactician. I've got no frelling idea what the outcome may be when I do something. I should just sit on my hands and shut up. But there's Aeryn. She may be in trouble. She may need our help."

"John," D'Argo cut him off before he could start again. He grabbed John's shoulders and looked him straight in the eye. "Find out what your priorities are. What is the most important issue here? The wormhole tech? Or Aeryn?"

"For me personally, there's no question. That's Aeryn. But the wormhole tech ... give it to the wrong guys and millions suffer. And I can't live with that. On the other hand, if Aeryn dies while I can't make up my mind, I can't live with that either," he replied without hesitation. "Essentially, I'm screwed no matter what I choose."

D'Argo tried to come up with a reasonable defense, but could at first think of nothing to say. He thought about it for a few microts, then focused on John again. "Did you ask for the wormhole tech?" he asked.

"What?" John asked, a bit confused.

"Did you ask these Ancients of yours to give you the wormhole technology?" D'Argo repeated.

"No, I didn't. I'd give it up in a split second if I could, too," John said.

"Then, essentially, it is not your responsibility. That some alien decides you should be extra storage space for their advanced technology hardly seems like a good deal to me. It is not something you wanted, not something you asked for. Hence you cannot be held responsible for how it is used," D'Argo said. "Especially not when it is stolen from you the way Scorpius tried to."

"Yeah, I can, D'Argo. Because the only way that they can get it from me, is if I give it to them. It's a conscious deal and it makes me responsible," John disagreed.

It was hard to argue that point, yet D'Argo still felt that John shouldn't be responsible for this whole mess. The man took the universe upon his shoulders far too easily and if he didn't stop that sort of behavior, it would end up crushing him. "I do not understand why you feel responsible for this, John," he finally said and took a step back. "Think about it. This is not something you asked for, not something you want. Why should you feel responsible? Give it to these guys, get them to help find Aeryn, and let's get the frell out of here before they decide it's a bad idea to have witnesses. Personally, I would like nothing more than to settle down on some obscure little planet somewhere and grow some crops."

For some reason, D'Argo's idea of heaven appeared to be funny to John, because he chuckled helplessly. "D'Argo, we all have dreams. Mine's not to become a farmer, but hell, right now I'd settle for that just to get out of the line of fire," he said.

"Then do it. Why are you thinking about this? Give them the technology, get whatever information you can get on Aeryn's whereabouts and let's be on our way. We accomplish nothing by sitting around here and thinking this thing to death," D'Argo countered, trying to steel John in whatever decision he was leaning most towards.

John stared at him and for a few breathless microts, D'Argo actually thought he would go for it. But then he sighed. His shoulders slumped and he leaned back against the workbench, dropping his head again. "I can't. I can't give it to them. Not like that. Not without knowing what they stand for," he said and D'Argo could literally see the weight on his shoulders increase.

"John, for frell's sake," D'Argo sighed. "I know you take this very seriously and I would understand your dedication completely if you had been asked and had volunteered to carry this dren around in your head. What I do not understand is that you will protect it at the cost of your friends and loved ones, considering that these Ancients have put this in your head without letting you know about it in the first place. It just seems ... wrong to me."

John shook his head. Even D'Argo's tirade could not upset him, which had the Luxan worried. "Whatever their reasons may be, D'Argo, I can't let others have this 'dren' because I know what it can do; I know the destruction this can cause," John argued.

"I know that. You've said so about a gazillion times already," D'Argo said, starting to get a little annoyed at this whole deal. It was beginning to sound like John was trying to defend a hopeless case. With a huff, he turned his back on John and folded his arms over his chest to give this some thought. And then it hit him how they may be able to solve this problem and keep everybody happy. He turned back to face his friend, who looked more downcast than ever. "You said that these Ancients told you that they didn't let you know about the technology because you had to discover it for yourself, right?" John frowned and nodded. "Well, it's very simple then," D'Argo said with a smile. "Give them your module with that device on top and let them figure it out for themselves. That way they can only use it if they learn how."

John stared at him for a long moment, then glanced away with a frown furrowing his brow.

"If you deactivate it, they will have to figure out how to put it together. That way they learn the technology like the Ancients wanted it and it is no longer on your shoulders," D'Argo pressed, afraid that John would change his mind and refuse again.

"That may be the way to go," he finally agreed.

D'Argo clapped a hand onto his shoulder and grinned. "Yes, my friend. It is," he assured him.

***