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In the Dark

by cofax

     Subject: [glass_onion] NEW (FS): In the Dark by cofax (PG)
     Date: Friday, August 09, 2002 11:10 AM
     
     Title: In the Dark
     Author: cofax
     Email:  cofax@mindspring.com
     Rating: PG
     Spoilers:  Through "Promises"
     Summary: It wasn't, for once, about the wormholes.
     Feedback makes me do the wacky: please send it to cofax@mindspring.com.

In the Dark
by cofax
August 9, 2002

The room is small for four people, and they are wedged in together, hip to hip, their breath mixing in the dank air. Aeryn does not believe the Hokothians value cleanliness very much, if this is how they keep their parliament building. Even the supply cabinets on a Peacekeeper command carrier are well-maintained. But she is not, she reminds herself, on a command carrier anymore. Or even on a Leviathan.

Three of them are standing in this tiny space: the fourth of them, the smallest, is curled on their feet, her ear pressed to the door. They left ears outside, tiny metallic implants in the hallways and foliage around the building, but they can take no chances. Marta lets out a breath and shifts her weight; her pelvic bone grinds into Aeryn's foot.

Marta's hair is lighter than normal for Sebaceans, and in this poor light Aeryn can almost think it is Chiana at her feet, John at her side where Barron now is. But Barron smells of the bilnat root he chews, and is much bigger than John, his muscles bulging oddly during training bouts. He is also stupid, and for that Aeryn cannot forgive him.

She protested his inclusion, but Definet was adamant. They needed a fourth member, and it had to be a Sebacean male. Only mixed-gender couples traveled to Nelkathar in the spring, and the spring was the only time the Prime Hokothian was to be found outside the safety of his residence on the planet's smaller moon. Barron had to be on the team. Aeryn thinks she may not live to regret his inclusion.

Aeryn has had too much time to think during the last cycle. It was all so alien, the dirt and the caution, the rust-colored rooms and the chill air of Antiba City. She had little to do when she arrived at the tiny guerrilla camp: just another Peacekeeper sick of the discipline, on the run for insubordination, contamination, stupidity. They'd put her to work in the city, guarding transports. It didn't take her long to realize these weren't food and supplies but weapons shipments, and felarnium ore.

Not that it made any difference to her. The name "Aeryn Sun" meant nothing to these people, and rather than argue, she stood her watches, piloted their groundcars, slept in the grim echoing warehouse with the other exiles. She didn't remember being so bored on guard duty before she came to Moya; what had she occupied her mind with then?

Now she couldn't stop thinking, couldn't stop remembering. The memories wouldn't stay where they belonged anymore. A glimpse of a Luxan in the market from the window of the groundcar, the sight of a black coat disappearing around a corner, a man's laughter from the corner of the one bar the exiles were permitted to frequent: every day she was reminded of what she had left behind. John was never far from her mind, and after a while it wasn't "my John" and "the other one" but just "John".

She was on Antiba for half a cycle before she thought to look for a medical facility. There was an infant on the shoulder of a Luxan woman in the marketplace one day; Aeryn stared for a long moment before Marta jostled her arm. She turned away, but the baby's huge eyes stayed with her. Maybe --

But she waited too long. Barron had too much raslak that night -- not for the first time -- and Aeryn and Marta brought him back to the warehouse, Aeryn supporting Barron's shoulder while Marta escorted them, pistol in hand. Antiba was a border planet, and the local politicians did little more than take their cut at the spaceport. At night, you traveled armed or you didn't go out.

As Aeryn shouldered open the warehouse door and turned to pull Barron through, she heard a sudden laugh from inside.

"Aeryn Sun!"

Marta kept Barron from hitting the ground as Aeryn spun, her pistol in her hand. Three people stood together under the light by the strategy table across the room. One was Definet, the commander of her cell; the second was a slightly-built Nebari man Aeryn had seen before. The third was a Sebacean woman with dark hair, dressed unobtrusively in civilian robes. She was looking at Aeryn with open delight, and her smile widened as Aeryn stared at her.

"Oh, Officer Sun. Our circumstances have changed, but surely you haven't forgotten all the friends you made on the Royal Planet?"

Now, finally, all the clues came together. Scorpius, the battle between the Scarrans and the Peacekeepers for the breakaway colonies, and John's mysterious rescuer. Jenavian Chatto.


Footsteps outside; Aeryn tenses, and Marta raises a finger. One, two, three: and then they are gone, the sound of heavy feet fading. Aeryn lets go of the pulse pistol she has half-drawn. Definet gives a brief nod, but Barron didn't even notice what happened.

They have been in this closet for nine arns now. Soon the Parliament will open, and the four of them will be able to move. Soon.


It was not news to Definet that Chatto was a Disruptor, and probably a double-agent. Special Directorate had its own internal dissension, and Chatto's party found Definet's alliance of misfits quite useful. Disrupting the felarnium trade, and so interfering with the conversion of low-grade ore into high-grade fuel for Nebari hetch drives, suited Special Directorate and the Nebari resistance equally. As for the Peacekeeper exiles, well, most of them, Aeryn decided, were just happy to have something to shoot at.

But Chatto and Definet had broader ambitions.

"Sun, you know him better than anyone else. You know what we're doing is important. He could help us!"

It wasn't, for once, about the wormholes. Whatever Commandant Grayza knew about John's importance in Scorpius' wormhole project had not made its way to Chatto's branch of the Special Directorate. What she wanted -- what Definet and the Nebari resistance wanted -- was John's name.

John Crichton, the man who embarrassed the Peacekeepers. John Crichton, who destroyed a Shadow Depository, who blew up Scorpius' Gammak base and his Command Carrier, who eluded mad Bialar Crais. John Crichton cast a long shadow across the Uncharted Territories. They needed the name, not the man.

Aeryn shook her head. This was the fourth time they'd had this argument, and Chatto would not let it go. "I don't know where he is," Aeryn finally said, her eyes fixed on a half-empty mug of keffa across the room. She wished she had not been recognized.

"Oh." A brief frown crossed the other woman's face, barely disturbing the flawless skin. "Well, when we find him --" There was a calculating look in Chatto's eyes.

They didn't find him, of course. The work went on, and Aeryn's assignment changed, under Chatto's patronage, from guard duty to squad leader. She led three successful raids against Nebari felarnium ore shipments, returning from each gritty with ore dust. The dust got everywhere in the warehouse: into their clothes, the food, even the raslak.

But the felarnium was the only reason any of them were on Antiba, this otherwise uninteresting border world near the Hokothian Premise. And Aeryn was, if not happy, content enough: she had comrades, if unreliable ones; a duty, if occasionally distasteful; and a purpose, if murky. Where else could she go?


They are not carrying enough weapons for this. They have pulse pistols, two rifles, a Jedda-Lerg shoulder cannon, but that is all. They are guerrillas, not heavy infantry.

They are probably all going to die. Definet knows it, has known it from the start. And Marta, solid, experienced Marta -- well, she's seen the escape plan, what little there is. Only Barron still thinks they're getting out of this alive.

Aeryn can't regret it. This strike is necessary, and they're the only ones who who even have a chance. But she wishes for -- something. She can't wish for his forgiveness, but she'd trade Barron and the shoulder cannon to have John beside her today. He would understand.


The mission came up with little warning. One day Aeryn and Marta were sitting in the warehouse, playing skiltas for Luxan gem-cakes, and the next day they were on a stolen Nebari freighter being briefed at ferocious speed. Aeryn was to take a team of four onto the Hokothian homeworld and kill their leader.

"We kill him." Prowler pilots aren't trained in history, or interstellar politics, but this seemed beyond the scope of the work they'd done so far. "Just like that."

Chatto flushed, and tried to glare her down. But Aeryn had survived three cycles with Rygel the Sixteenth; she was immune to glares.

"Frell you, Sun. Can't you just take orders?"

"Give me one that doesn't mean suicide and I'll consider it." It felt good to say it; it was the sort of thing she'd said often enough on Moya, and hardly at all the last cycle. Marta choked at her side, but Aeryn kept her eyes on Chatto.

"Here, then." Chatto dropped a vid chip into the viewer on the console. She walked to the door and paused, looking grim, and her voice lowered. "This is what the Hokothians have been up to, while we've been chasing down Nebari felarnium shipments. This is what Special Directorate considers a 'minor disturbance in the colony worlds'." The door to the common area had barely closed when the chip began to play.

The vid chip had been smuggled off a Sebacean colony on the far side of the Hokothian Premise. There had been twelve million residents on the planet, mostly farmers and miners. There was a small wood-working industry for the luxury trade. There were still cities, towns, mines and farms. But there wasn't a Sebacean alive on the planet anymore.

It takes a lot of control to be a prowler pilot. Muscular control; mental control; emotional control. Prowler pilots can take heavy acceleration without blacking out; can operate freely in zero-gee environments without motion sickness; and do not get disoriented in open space.

Aeryn did not have the control to watch the vid chip through more than once.


Barron is getting restless. Aeryn swivels her head just a dench and catches his eye: he stills, his lower lip jutting for an instant. They cannot risk detection: they are too close, and if they are caught there will be no more chances. The Prime Hokothian will never leave his fortress again.

There are no resources for a frontal assault on the Hokothians, and the Peacekeepers are unconcerned with the welfare of poor agricultural colonies outside their jurisdiction. There is only the one chance to strike back --more of a gesture than anything else.

But the bodies of the children had been unburied. Were still unburied, now, thirty light-cycles away.

She may die, but this is a duty she can perform. A clean one, and she can die without the grit of felarnium ore in her clothes.

END


Notes: I needed, for my own peace of mind, to get Aeryn from "Dog With Two Bones" to "Promises". Please let me know if you think I succeeded. Beta by nobody (oh the horror). But thanks to Fi and Max for the encouragement.

"To deny the scientific realities of the cosmos is to place limits on the tools and intent of God." - Mary Doria Russell

alchemy, mouldiwarps and coprophagy: http://mouldiwarps.shriftweb.org/


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