She leaves her Prowler outside the city at sunset. The mauve and scarlet sky is fading to the dark blue-gray of Traskan silk, but she can still feel the heat of the sand through her boots.
Squat adobe buildings are ringed by blocks of sandstone, three times her height, dull red and pitted by unnumbered windstorms. Monoliths that once served some religious purpose, perhaps. Or the remains of a defensive wall, around a city that is now crumbling. Those refugees who cannot afford a roof for shelter sleep here, among these stones, in tents of cheap synthetic fibers or cracked lizard hide.
Many of them are starving. Half of them are species she's never heard of, but the ones she recognizes aren't meant to be so thin. This planet is at the edge of a war zone, and the shipping lanes that once brought food and medical supplies are now too dangerous for an unarmed craft. These creatures have run as far as they can afford to run, seeking peace only to find grinding poverty and a slow death.
She is here to meet her contact and leave. This place reminds her of Valldon, where the faces of the living look less alive than those of the dead that haunt them, and she has no desire to stay for long. She'd sent a message out on a coded frequency before landing in the desert; the squad will know she is coming--if they are even here. If the codes and coordinates Crais gave her are correct. She has no idea how he got the information, and she really doesn't care.
Few beings are abroad in the narrow city streets, as the sky grows darker. She keeps one hand near her pulse pistol as she walks, moving to avoid a hunched figure shuffling up behind her. Whatever species it is, it's weaving like it's had far too much to drink, its face hidden by a dull green cloak. As she steps to the side, a hand reaches for her arm, pulls her close.
Her elbow strikes backwards into soft flesh, and she hears a surprised grunt as she wrenches her arm free. But she's too slow to dodge a kick to the back of her knee, and she goes down hard in the street, rolling to the side a microt before a heavy weight lands on her back.
Cold metal brushes her neck, and she goes still.
That last kick was a move she'd drilled countless times as a child, and she doesn't need to turn her head to see that the face denches from hers belongs to a Sebacean.
"Are you alone?"
"Obviously," she says, with a snap of annoyance. "Are you my contact?"
"Officer Aeryn Sun," he says, rolling away, sliding the blade into a pocket of his cloak as he stands. "Senior Officer Staavi Lechna. You should be more careful." He doesn't offer her a hand up, only a sardonic smile that doesn't reach his eyes. "These streets are dangerous at night."
"I hadn't noticed." She can't decide if he's mocking her or not. "Do you have a job for me?"
"Do you greet all your new recruits this way?"
The raslak is bitter, and Lechna--if that's his real name--has already warned her she doesn't want to try the food. They sit at a table in the corner, watching the door, watching the other beings in the bar, and trying not to look like they're watching each other.
"Only the ones we think we can use." Dark curly hair falls over his forehead as he pushes his hood back, and when he turns toward her she sees a long pink scar running from his left temple to the corner of his mouth. "The others we ignore until they stop looking for us. Standard procedure--just testing your reflexes."
"If I hadn't been flying for the past two weekens, on very short rations, my reflexes would have been much better." She tells herself that's the only reason he could overpower her so quickly. "I would have killed you."
"Perhaps." His lips twitch upward, and it's a dead man's smile, with no warmth behind it at all. "Officer Aeryn Sun." He speaks slowly, and he never quite meets her eyes as he offers her a package of food cubes. "Formerly of Pleisar Regiment. Deserted three cycles ago, after being declared irreversibly contaminated by Captain Bialar Crais."
The food cubes are stale, but she's hungry and she's eaten far worse. "Does that bother you?"
"We are all contaminated, Officer Sun." His short, bitter laugh reminds her of Xhalax. She tilts her head at him, raises one eyebrow, wonders what path brought him here. Would it bother you, she wonders, if you knew I carry a half-alien child?
"Wanted for various acts of terrorism and rebellion," he goes on, "including the destruction of a command carrier, with the aid of John Crichton and Captain Crais."
Wherever they're getting their intelligence, it's clearly quite impressive. But it's nothing she doesn't know. "Do you have a job for me or not?"
"I will give you a set of coordinates. A temporary base, where you will receive your first assignment." Warm yellow light glints along the edges of his knife as he lays it on the table, slowly rubbing a stained cloth across the blade. His hands are never still. "I assume you have some kind of transport?"
"A Prowler. I'll need to refuel if this base is more than three solar days from here."
"It's less than half a solar day. You can refuel when you arrive." He waves in the direction of the bar, and a microt later the bartender thumps down two more raslak glasses. "We have very few Prowlers. We can always use another."
"My Prowler," she says, leaning close to him, one hand covering his, her nails digging into his wrist. "No one flies it but me."
She isn't sure why this is so important to her, but he only nods and says smoothly, "Of course."
Somewhere near the center of the city, a gong sounds, a shivery, hollow sound, echoing. "You are responsible for your own repairs. You will pay for your own fuel, and buy and maintain your own weapons. You'll be paid hard currency, after each confirmed kill." The gong sounds again, and the bar's patrons head toward the door, murmuring to each other, clearly agitated.
"Sandstorm. We'll leave when it's over."
He leads her up creaking metal stairs to a small room in the back of the building.
A single yellow lamp flickers erratically in the center of the ceiling. Rumpled blankets cover the bed pushed up against the wall, and assorted rubbish lies strewn about the floor. Through the window she can smell the open sewers in the street below. Thin metal shutters groan as he swings them shut, securing them with a rusting lock. He says, "We'll be safe here until the storm passes."
She leans against the mud-brick wall, folding her arms as he sits on the bed. She wants to be gone from this place. Two weekens since she left Moya, and she hasn't stopped except to refuel. If she keeps moving, it's easier not to think.
If she stays in one place, she'll have time to wonder if she made the wrong choice. Except there were no right choices left to make.
She doesn't want to be here. She wants the past, but the past is dead. Her John is dead, and Talyn and Crais and Henta and the carrier that was once her home. All she has now is her Prowler and her pulse rifle, and where she's going those things will be enough.
Perhaps one day Crichton will understand.
The wind outside is rising to a shriek. The shutters rattle against each other and the light fixture flashes bright for just a microt, startling them both before it goes out.
She hears the bed creak as he stands, but her eyes are still dazzled and she is surprised when his hands rest lightly on her shoulders. Too late, she pulls away, as his hand seizes her neck, forcing her back against the wall. She can barely see his silhouette in the dark, but she can feel his breath against her cheek, his fingers digging into her windpipe, his body pressed against hers.
Colored lights flare behind her eyes and she twists against him when his mouth covers hers. She drives a fist into his stomach, gasping for air as he staggers away from her. A low, breathless laugh reveals his position, but he dodges to the side, and her pantak jab grazes his shoulder.
His boots slip on loose sand and she shoves him backward onto the bed, straddling his hips before he can roll away from her, her knife pressing into soft flesh under his chin. Her edged whisper is barely audible above the growing roar of the storm. "Was that another test?"
Where the shutters don't quite cover the window, light filters in through the cracks, green and pink from the garish signs outside. His eyes are the color of wet ash, and he almost sounds disappointed. "You'll have to be faster than that, when you get to where you're going."
"Do you want me to kill you?" An insect as long as her thumb crawls out of a fold in the blanket, scurries across the bed before dropping to the floor. He doesn't answer the question.
He lifts his hand slowly, and she doesn't move as long fingers stroke her cheek. His thumb brushes over her lips, tracing the line of her jawbone. Wind-driven sand strikes the side of the building with a sound like a mortar blast, but the shutters on the window hold even while sand blows in around the edges, skittering across the floor. There's no light at all now, only the sound of the raging wind as he cradles the back of her neck. His other hand unzips her vest as she shifts on top of him, sliding the knife back into her boot.
The next kiss is soft, almost tentative. Cautious. What does that taste like?
Raslak and old memories, and she shuts her eyes, forces aside the sound of John's voice, the feel of warm alien skin against hers. He holds her lightly, like you'd hold a ghost, and she wonders who she is when his eyes are closed.
This is a dance she knows, and if the costumes and the settings are shabby and worn, the steps remain the same. An older pattern and a simpler one, and right now all she wants is to slide back into it like an old pair of boots, comfortable and familiar, if nothing special. John is gone, and this man, she knows, cannot hurt her.
Not when she has already forgotten his name.
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Title: Shelter from the Storm
Author: Flora [email] [website]
Details: Standalone | PG-13 | het | 9k | 09/18/04
Characters: Aeryn, Other
Summary: If she keeps moving it's easier not to think.
Notes: Spoilers for S1 through S4
Disclaimer/Other: For Searose. Written for Thea's Aeryn ficathon. All the stories will be archived at the Human Remains Archive. Huge thanks to Kernezelda and StarsGoBlue for betaing this, and the Thea for organizing it, and to Kerlin for archiving all these fics! Feedback is very much appreciated!
I don't own any of these characters, I'm not making any money off of this, please don't sue.
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