The heavy metallic clunk of a ship landing signaled that Rygel had arrived, and as one, all of them who stood in the bay raised their weapons. Chiana's voice announced over the comms, "No Peacekeeper tail ships. So far..."
Pilot's voice followed, saying, "Moya's senses detect no military activity directed towards us."
Crichton was ready. He stood at the end of the line, to the left of D'Argo, Aeryn, and Zhaan, aware that he could trust them; that they were all together on this. They were his allies (at least for the moment, a tiny voice whispered), unlike the supposed shipmate who was just now floating into view on his thronesled to face the weapons they leveled at him.
"Please don't shoot," Rygel requested, a lot calmer than Crichton had expected he would; "Of course, I would have demanded the same precautions myself."
Coldly, Aeryn ordered, "Get off the thronesled, Rygel, and face down on the ground."
"Well, hardly," Rygel responded. "Then I'd miss your reaction to what is about to happen. And please, whatever your reaction, don't let it include weapons fire..."
Curious despite their concern, they watched with guns still ready as it became evident that someone else was approaching -- and then Crais walked out to stand beside Rygel...
Part of Crichton remained completely rational, thinking that of all the things he would have expected, this was the least likely. But the rational part of him was no longer in control, and was just as startled as the others when he laughed and crowed, "My boy Crais!"
Crais studied Crichton's expression, alarmed by the edge of insanity in both his tone and his eyes. So, it wasn't just an act for Scorpius... he thought, anger towards the half-breed reminding him exactly why he had taken this humiliating step. But then, there were the weapons... "Clearly an awkward situation... However, I have asked," he paused briefly to glance aside at the small alien, "Dominar Rygel the XVI for asylum, and he has accepted."
Zhaan blurted, "By the Goddess -- that's insane!" and Crais could see her sentiments echoed in the others' expressions; the fact that none of them had yet lowered their weapons proving that they suspected a trick of some kind.
"What do you need asylum from?" Aeryn asked coldly.
He stepped firmly on his anger and replied, "Before I can answer your questions, I would feel safer in protective custody with passions calmer."
Crichton raised his eyebrows and, with amusement, said, "Protective custody..." Looking at the Sebacean, he could tell the man was desperate; even though he was totally unwilling to show it. Just the fact that he had turned to them for protection -- he could see the exhaustion, the pain, everything Crais was trying so hard to hide. Part of him seethed with fury at Scorpius, knowing the half-breed was responsible for the pain both he and Crais had suffered -- he refused to listen to the voice in the back of his mind that reminded him Crais would never have been driven to this desperate act if he hadn't used him as a distraction to aid his own escape...
Then he realized that Aeryn had instructed Pilot to have the DRD's search the transport for tracking devices, and was now walking forward and ordering Crais to place his hands on his head, fingers laced, while she stalked around behind him and searched him for concealed weapons. And still the Sebacean stared at him, his expression becoming unreadable when he realized Crichton was studying him in return. Zhaan walked forward to guard while Aeryn was searching Crais, and he continued to watch.
"As you can see, I'm unarmed," Crais said quietly, enduring the indignities with far more patience than Crichton had expected. Shifting his grip on his gun, Crichton studied him, trying to read his expression; trying to figure out how he felt about what had happened on the Gammak base and after -- and then suddenly D'Argo was handing him his Qualta blade and walking forward.
"As you can see, I'm also unarmed," the Luxan said, closing the distance. Crichton swallowed hard, realizing that things were about to get ugly. He could see the nervousness, now, as Crais also realized what was going to happen; before Crais could react, D'Argo punched him savagely in the stomach. Doubling over in pain, it was all Crais could do to keep from falling. The next blow from the Luxan solved that problem, dropping him to the ground like a stone. When he tried to roll away from the abuse, D'Argo kicked him savagely, knocking him onto his back.
"You've always said you wanted to kill me," Crais ground out with difficulty -- it took nearly every ounce of strength to force air back into his lungs.
"You knew," D'Argo growled, "You knew all along." Crichton watched, disturbed by D'Argo's savagery and upset by its cause; unable to move to aid either one. "Tell them," the Luxan said, then as his fury grew, "Tell them!"
Straining to get the words out, Crais said, "Ka D'Argo did not commit the crime that he was imprisoned for." And then D'Argo roared with fury and kicked him again. "His mate was killed by someone else."
"Her own brother; a Peacekeeper," Aeryn said coldly.
Crichton couldn't take it anymore. "You knew, and you kept him in chains," he said, horrified. How could Crais do such a thing?
"No matter what I knew, only a tribunal order can release a convicted murderer," Crais answered, speech still difficult as every breath was a battle with his own bruised body.
"Easy answer," Crichton said angrily.
"There is much in life that is unfair. We are all proof of that," Crais said, pain evident in his tone.
Unfair? This goes way beyond unfair... Crichton thought, looking down at Crais. "If life was fair, you'd be dead," he said, trying to figure out if he imagined the hurt that flashed momentarily in Crais' eyes.
The Sebacean tried to sit up and winced in pain, fell back to the floor. Zhaan tugged on D'Argo's shoulder, pulling him away from their immediate vicinity; then murmured, "Come, D'Argo, he cannot harm you now..." As they backed away, D'Argo retrieved his blade from the distracted human and snarled down at Crais.
Aeryn moved in, prepared to haul Crais to his feet or shoot him, whichever was more appropriate; until she realized that he and Crichton were staring at each other. There was something very strange going on here...
Crais stared up into the clear blue eyes, seeing the pain and confusion there. He tried to sit up again, grunting with pain as he managed to prop himself up. "If life was fair, Scorpius would be dead," he said pointedly. He could see the moment of indecision in Crichton's eyes, the pain and fear quickly covered -- and then the human was reaching down to grasp his arm and help him stand. His head spun and the merciless pounding in his temples returned with a vengeance, and for a horrible moment he was certain he would pass out, until Crichton slid an arm about his waist to support him.
It was all he could do to restrain a soft moan as Crichton pulled him closer, the pain of his bruised body warring with the effect the human's warmth was having on him. Crichton was talking to Aeryn, saying something about taking him to a cell, but he was concentrating too hard on remembering how to breathe to catch all of it. Then he realized Crichton had turned back to him and was speaking directly to him.
"I said, 'can you stand?'" Crichton repeated, torn between his anger and concern at how unwell Crais actually looked. The dark circles under his eyes and the paleness of his skin indicated that things had not gone well for the Peacekeeper after he had escaped. Crais' comment about Scorpius also concerned him -- even though he was furious with himself for caring, he wanted desperately to strangle the half-breed if what he suspected were true... "You look like dren," he added more gently.
Crais steadied himself, determined to stand on his own and not show such weakness in front of Aeryn, then answered, "I can stand. I have endured far worse than a beating by a Luxan." Something about the way he said it told Crichton he was not referring to battles, but something much more recent...
"We should put him in the cell, Crichton," Aeryn said coldly, shifting her grip on her pulse rifle. "We can't afford to stand around talking about things..."
Crichton looked back at her and said, "Yeah -- yeah, you're right. C'mon, Crais. You know where the cells are..."
Subdued, moving slowly as his bruised body protested, Crais headed for the cells with Crichton and Aeryn following, weapons ready. Once there, he stepped obediently into the cell, determined to show them that he was not a threat. Aeryn asked, "So, is there anything you want to say to me?"
Crais turned back to meet her gaze and answered, "I think we covered it all when you left me for dead in the Aurora Chair."
Crichton was proud of himself -- he managed to keep his expression neutral at this revelation. Inside, his mind was screaming, unable to wrap itself around the thought that Aeryn, an ally and one of the good guys, could have done something like that to a man who used to be her commanding officer. It wasn't the kind of thing they did! If someone had said that Rygel had done it, that he could almost believe -- and even Zhaan and D'Argo had been involved when they cut off one of Pilot's arms to trade with Nam-Tar -- but Aeryn...
Unbidden, a memory rose in his mind's eye: Aeryn returning to them with an ident chip as they hid in the Gammak base, and telling him that she had run into 'an old friend'. Obviously, she had run into Crais after Scorpius had been questioning him -- and had done something to him so serious that she had assumed he would die...
Then he realized she was answering, her tone cold. "Good. I'm going to go and check out their transport myself. I still don't trust either of them." She turned and walked off, leaving him there.
Crichton stood there for a moment, then shifted his grip on his weapon and closed the cell door. Then he leaned in close and looked Crais in the eye, "What are you doing here, Crais? Really?"
It was more than obvious from the Peacekeeper's (Ex-Peacekeeper, Crichton amended mentally) attitude that he was furious at his imprisonment, at the situation that had led to him being in that position in the first place, and at things that Crichton didn't even want to think about... Quietly, Crais answered, "I believe my best chance is to let the Hynerian explain my position to you."
Amused, despite the fact that he knew he shouldn't be, Crichton said, "You're letting Rygel be your advocate?" Crais remained silent, glowering at the wall, as Crichton continued, "You're worse off than you look."
Crais looked up at him, fury blazing in his eyes. He was pleased to see Crichton's expression harden -- it made things easier to deal with if the human thought of him as an enemy. "That's good, Crichton, hate me for the sadistic bastard I am. It's what they trained me to be..."
And suddenly those blue eyes softened again, sending a shiver through Crais. Crichton smiled wistfully and murmured, "But not what you were raised to be..."
"Leave that out of this," Crais growled, using the fact that he knew Crichton had obtained that knowledge from the false memory in the Aurora Chair in an attempt to sustain his anger.
"Why, Crais? You're not like most Peacekeepers -- you've known what it's like to have a family, people who love you..." Crichton said softly, seeing the sadness and pain starting to overwhelm the anger. "It had to be something really bad to make you leave the one thing you had left... Do you really want Rygel to be the one to explain it to me?"
Crais shook his head, ducking his gaze and studying the floor. For a moment, Crichton thought he had pushed too hard, then Crais' head snapped up again. "You'd never understand..." he murmured.
Crichton was amazed how much disgust and loathing could be crammed into one simple word; amazed at how, even now, just the thought of the sadistic scientist could make him shiver. "He raped you..." Crichton murmured, feeling a pang of guilt at the knowledge that he had made it possible.
The stricken look in the hazel eyes confirmed his suspicions. He shook his head and murmured, "I'm sorry -- I had to get out of there -- he was driving me insane with that Chair of his..."
Crais pounded his fist on the cell door, startling him badly. "Driving you insane? He went fishing in my head for something that never happened because you and that traitorous Tech set him on me! When he was done, Officer Sun happened upon me and left me there with the Chair on full..." Suddenly running out of steam, he added in a whisper, "I wished for death..."
"But you survived..." Crichton said equally quietly. After a long moment of silence, he prompted, "And after we escaped?"
"Scorpius... decided that it would be better off for all involved if he took over your pursuit..." Crais said uncomfortably.
Crichton studied him, well aware that he was holding back everything except the barest amount of information he could give. Something in the way Crais was suddenly avoiding eye contact -- it was more than simple disgust and fear of the situation; something had happened to the Sebacean that had shaken him to his very core -- nothing any less drastic would have made him flee to his enemies for help... "Crais, tell me what he did, please?"
"Is this really so easy for you humans?" Crais asked bitterly, looking up again to see Crichton studying him. "To bare your soul to another?"
"Actually, no, it usually isn't," Crichton admitted. "But hell, you've seen me at my weakest, my most vulnerable... You and I have been closer, physically, than I've been with anyone on Moya for-- well, let's just skip that part. We've been damned close, and that bastard Scorpius has abused the hell out of both of us... Tell me what happened."
Crais swallowed hard and nodded, but found he couldn't speak under Crichton's intense scrutiny. He took a step closer to the door, then sat down. A deep breath, then, studying his hands, he said, "He asked me about you -- in the Chair. You were right; he was using both of us to satisfy his disgusting urges -- watching my memories of you and enjoying them by feeding off what I felt..."
Crais paused, and Crichton nodded, disturbed by the cold sweat that had broken out on his forehead; the chills that thoughts of their experiences brought... "Yeah...That's what he did to me, too..."
"That's not all," Crais whispered, "He-- I-- I have spent the past few nights as his slave, drugged into submission; unable to control my own reactions and actually responding to that grotesque creature's touch!" A violent shudder passed through him at the remembrance of Scorpius' attentions.
When Crais looked up, Crichton was kneeling closer to the door, the gun lying across the corridor out of reach. Crichton reached into the cell and gently touched his shoulder. "He still had to drug you, Crais. Nothing to be ashamed about, no matter how it ended up..."
"Your people use your lack of control as an excuse," Crais said quietly. "I do not have that option -- drugged or not, that loss of control was..."
"Terrifying," Crichton finished, reading it in his eyes before Crais looked away again. "Yeah, I know. So, you left with Rygel because Scorpy turned your life into a living hell...would you go back if he was dead?"
"I cannot -- I believe Scorpius has already made his report on my 'treason'. I am now as homeless as Officer Sun."
"Wow," Crichton murmured, standing up again and pacing back and forth in the corridor. "So now what do we do?"
Lieutenant Braca entered the quarters that until very recently had been Crais' to find Scorpius pacing and reading something. Without looking up, the half-breed ordered, "Report, Lieutenant."
"As the vector narrows, our search team is confident of locating the Leviathan within several arns."
"Excellent, Lieutenant. Keep me informed," Scorpius said, then added "Any word from Captain Crais?" The boredom in his tone was obvious.
"None, Sir." Scorpius looked at him and stopped pacing, then nodded. Braca nodded in return and turned to leave, then paused. "Sir? Permission to speak freely?"
Very softly, Scorpius answered, "Of course, Lieutenant. If you weren't free to, I would not have you here."
Braca digested that statement uncomfortably, but tried to keep it from showing; prayed that Scorpius wouldn't sense his discomfort. He asked, "If you suspected the Captain might not return of his own volition, why did you let him go?"
Scorpius walked to Braca and put a hand on his shoulder. Quietly, he said, "We all have windows of usefulness. If we don't take advantage of them, our careers may fade." Braca nodded nervously, and Scorpius let go, then continued, "For example, my instincts tell me that your career may well be on the rise..." He patted Braca on the shoulder then strode out of his quarters, leaving Braca there, staring at his shoulder as if some hideous creature had perched upon it.
I'm not entirely sure that's where I want my career to rise to, Braca thought uncomfortably.
After his confession, Crais had withdrawn, still sitting on the floor of the cell but not looking at Crichton. Eventually, Crichton stopped pacing and sat down in the corridor opposite the cell, picking up the gun again and folding up defensively. Their discussion had made him extremely uncomfortable, and it was all he could do to remind himself that Scorpius was not there, was not touching him; was not whispering in his ear...
Enough! he thought, shaking himself out of what he figured had to be some kind of post-traumatic stress flashback. More than enough! He looked up to see Crais' attention focus on him suddenly, and for just an instant he thought he could see a spark of madness in the hazel eyes, then it was gone and Crais was frowning slightly. "How you doin'?" he asked the Sebacean quietly.
"Why would you ask?" Crais answered softly. He didn't want to let Crichton know how relieved he was to have something to distract him from the horror of his memories...
"I look at you," Crichton answered quietly, "and I get homesick. I'm -- desperate for human male-to-male conversation, and I figure...cars, football, they're out of the question."
"Do you think it's an accident...our species are so much alike?"
"Do you know the answer to that?" Crichton asked in return. It had been something he had wondered about ever since he first met Aeryn...
"No. It's one of the mysteries I'll miss solving," Crais answered sadly.
You think we're going to kill you? Crichton thought, digesting the finality of Crais' statement. "Yeah. Kind of makes you feel your own mortality, doesn't it? Being in there?" he asked, trying to sound out Crais' mood, and in the meantime give him back just a little of what he had been dishing out over the time they had known each other... Quieter, now, "That's what it's like for us, every day..." He paused, fighting to talk through the lump that had formed in his throat; realizing that the tears he'd been trying to blink away had spilled over and run down his cheek... "...every hour...every minute...every second with you riding our asses."
He knew he had succeeded when Crais looked upset. Part of him ached seeing the pain in Crais' eyes and knowing he had caused it, but it was only fair!
"I understand you didn't mean to kill my brother. It was an accident. I realize that now, as I look back and try to understand it all," Crais admitted softly, aware of the pain he had caused Crichton and the rest of the fugitives. They had every right to strike back, especially Crichton...
"Do you have any idea what you put me through? All of us, through?" Crichton pressed, trying not to look too closely at his own wording.
Blinking away his own tears, Crais said, "I thought it was about my brother." He looked down, then, "It should have been about my brother." When he looked back up, he met Crichton's gaze and said, "Somewhere along the way my priorities...decayed. I realized I'd become more concerned with my own image and career." He looked down again, painfully aware that in becoming so obsessed, he had lost both.
"Do you mean to help?" Crichton asked, his heart pounding in his ears. He was amazed at how much he wanted Crais to say 'yes'... When Crais looked up to meet his gaze again, he said, "Now's the time..."
Crichton sat behind a console, listening to the others debating what their plan would be while Crais stood by and analyzed it from a PeaceKeeper point of view. He stole a glance at the Sebacean, found the hazel gaze fixed on him. He tried to drag his attention back to the discussion, away from what had happened when he had opened the cell to let Crais out... He shivered slightly as the memory intruded anyway; Crais drawing even with him and taking a step closer, arms suddenly on either side of him effectively pinning him against the wall. The Sebacean had then pressed up against him, forcing him back against the wall just as he had in the quarters on Scorpius' base, and purred, "Don't think all of this means you're no longer mine, Crichton..."
He swallowed hard and shook his head, forcing his mind back to the present; forcing his body to behave itself. He regained control over his subconscious just in time to hear Aeryn ask Crais, "How long is Scorpius likely to delay attacking us?"
Crais stared straight at the computer panel and said, "Once he discovers your location, expect no delay." He could see Crichton's gaze turn to him, but he continued, "Fly a transport into the bridge of a Command Carrier? Suicide. The ship's sensors will detect explosive contents, and you will be destroyed well out of range."
The others glanced uncomfortably at each other, and Zhaan said, "The Kronite won't be active until the catalyst is added. It will appear to be a perfectly normal transport."
"With weighted tonnage, moving slowly? What do you think, Officer Sun?" Crais asked pointedly.
Aeryn straightened, feeling somewhat uncomfortable that he had pointed this out when she hadn't. She could feel Chiana and Crichton both look at her, but whereas Crichton was only looking for her answer, Chiana seemed ready to accuse her of something. "It's a longshot, but it's all we've got," she answered.
"No," D'Argo said, "I have another idea. What does Scorpius value more than this Leviathan?" Crais glanced over at Crichton, whose eyes darted in his direction, but D'Argo either ignored or never saw the interchange, instead continuing, "I wager that precious research base down on that moon."
Chiana grinned, obviously liking that idea, and said, "The oil-covered moon. Brilliant. Light his world on fire..."
Crichton allowed himself to feel a glimmer of hope, although Rygel's arrival put a damper on that for a moment. "No," the Hynerian said, "Scorpius is no fool. He'll never allow it." Crichton had to wonder how much of Scorpius' hospitality the little alien had had the chance to enjoy.
D'Argo shook his head slightly and said, "Perfect. If he is as clever as you all say that he is, he will see the weight and explosive content for exactly what it is."
Zhaan smiled slightly and said, "A flying ignition source."
"Which would force him to do what?" D'Argo asked.
Crais had been watching them all, silently, but at this he looked down at the panel again. "Theoretically, to turn and pursue, closing range to destroy you."
"And when they change course?" D'Argo pushed.
"Moya has the time to get clear of the asteroid field and Starburst to freedom," Crichton said, letting that tiny glimmer of hope rekindle. "Solid, D'Argo."
"What about Moya's baby?" Chiana asked.
Crichton smiled slightly and said, "He tucks in close, and we take him through the Starburst with us."
"Someone still has to fly it, though," Zhaan said softly. Crichton looked at all of the faces in front of him, but said nothing. He already knew that he was going to be in the transport -- Scorpius was not getting his claws on him again.
"One of us will have to sacrifice ourselves for the others," D'Argo said.
Chiana frowned unhappily at that, and Rygel backed off, distancing himself from the rest of them. "The plan is flawed," Crais stated. As Zhaan and D'Argo looked up at him, he continued, "Scorpius will not chase the transport because there's one thing that he values more than his precious base." The others were surprised by the anger and discomfort evident in his expression; as he looked over at Crichton they gradually followed his gaze, starting to realize what he was implying as Crichton met his gaze with a hard, uncomfortable stare...