Actions

Work Header

Little Acorns

Chapter Text

"Take all your problems
and rip 'em apart."
--Little Acorns, The White Stripes

 

"I released the stasis."

John sits down hard on her bed, trying to absorb the meaning of that small statement. To look at her, standing tall and still with her arms crossed, slim and severe, it would be easy to forget that she's technically pregnant. But what's she's saying is that it's not a technicality anymore, a few cells of potential energy that she doesn't like to talk about--now it's been triggered. Now it's the real thing. "Aeryn, that's...I mean, when did this happen?"

"When we were at Katratzi, one of the times we were on Grayza's Command Carrier. I had the opportunity and I took it."

"On Katratzi." He tastes the familiar tang of disaster as he repeats. "On the Command Carrier."

Her question is rhetorical and sharp. "Where else could I do this?"

"They know, Aeryn. That means they know about the baby." He rises to his feet and closes the distance. "I don't care if they're techs, Aeryn, I don't care if they treated you just like a crewmember, they'd know you weren't crew and they sure as hell told Grayza."

She paces. "Scorpius already knows, and if he knows then the Peacekeepers know."

He enunciates each word. "Not necessarily."

"Besides, you think I walked up to a tech and asked him to release the stasis? What do you take me for?"

"Then tell me what happened." He forces himself to unclench his jaw.

She stops pacing and leans against a counter set into the wall. Her elbows jostle but her arms remained crossed. "I assumed that my file would have a record of my parapheral injury and the graft that was stolen. I went to a med station and asked them to check that the regenerated nerve was functioning properly. After an injury that serious, a soldier has to be vetted for service by a med tech before returning to duty. I'm not a Peacekeeper anymore, but it wouldn't be unusual for me to want such a thing checked, now that I had the chance to be examined properly."

"Is it okay?"

"Yes, but that was just a cover, an excuse to be in the med station." She waves a hand and focuses on the point. "They performed several tests, and they left me alone more than once. When I had an opportunity, I released the conception from stasis myself."

"You told me only a surgeon could release it."

"Only surgeons have the authority, yes. You have to be assigned to breeding duty and only high-level med techs, surgeons, can give you the proper clearance. But releasing a conception is a quick thing, done with a small device. I think it gives some kind of medication or shock." She gestures, making a fist and hitting the side of it into her belly, pressing an imaginary button with her thumb. "It stung a little."

"Why did you use it right there on the Command Carrier?" His voice is notching louder again. "Couldn't you just boost it and maybe use it at a later date when we weren't taking ourselves hostage?"

She stays where she stands but responds with heat. "Now it's my turn to think you're stupid. They would have noticed it missing at the end of duty shift. Either I released the stasis right then, or I didn't."

Take it or leave it. Now or never. "And you did." Hop on board, boy, because the train is pulling out of the station without you.

"And I did. And now I know for sure that it is growing."

The rest of the crew latch on to Aeryn's news as a welcome diversion after weekens coasting in the vacant expanses of Tormented Space, helping Pilot recover from his heroic EVA and in general relishing the novelty of boredom. With Pilot and Moya healed, they begin working toward more populated areas, in search of a Diagnosan to heal Chiana's weakened eyes.

***

Moya comes out of starburst to find herself surrounded by Leviathans, hundreds of them, moving through space like motes of dust in a sunbeam. Some are russet, some tan, some with patches the color of rusting copper. There are Talyn-sized ones pressed like limpets against the bellies of larger ones. The sight stuns everyone on command into several hundred microts of silence.

John whistles a falling note. "Jebus, it's a frelling fleet out there."

The spell broken, D'Argo taps his comm and heads for the nearest console. "Pilot, can Moya starburst again?"

"Yes, she can--but she refuses to." Pilot pops into view in the clamshell. "These Leviathans pose no danger to us, and Moya is already in contact with several of them."

"There are hundreds out there." Aeryn looks up from her own console. "What kind of crews do they have?"

"None, Officer Sun. They have no crews, no passengers and no Pilots."

"Huh." John steps closer to the view screen, next to where Chiana crouches like a kid right on top of the television. "Wild Leviathans."

Pilot tilts his carapace, and his voice is hushed. "Feral, to be precise. Leviathans are a constructed species, and were never wild."

"If they live out here in Tormented Space," Rygel motors toward the clamshell, "how is it they aren't crazy?"

"They seem to have adapted to that stress. Moya says that the females all live together in this Pod, and that they have recently encountered males. She is very excited."

Chiana asks over her shoulder, "Who wouldn't be?"

John raises his hand.

D'Argo considers the ships filling the view screen, thinking what it must be like to encounter so many of one's kind after such a long time apart. "Pilot, do you agree that they pose no danger to Moya?"

"Moya tells me that the Leviathans can help her somehow. Let me get back to you." Pilot's image disappears for a brief moment, then comes back up. The speed of his turnaround contrasts with a newfound diffidence. "Moya...has a request."

"What is it, Pilot?" Aeryn steps in, speaking for the crew before D'Argo can open his mouth. "What can we do?"

"It is very important to Moya, and with your help we can accomplish it far more quickly than if we had to rely on DRDs alone."

"Of course we will do anything for her that needs to be done." D'Argo takes back his spokesman role with crossed arms.

Pilot runs out of preface and launches into the demand. "She needs you to remove all of the non-Leviathan technology that has been installed over the cycles."

"Whoa, whoa..." John strides back to the clamshell, "even the zyntian filter?"

"The Leviathans will not accept Moya until she reverts back to a natural state."

"She's going to go off and live with these creatures?"

"No, Dominar." Pilot angles his head. "She wants to mate."

"Good for her!" Chiana lightly smacks the deck and stands up, nodding her approval.

Pilot clarifies, "She wants a child."

Chiana pauses, then nods again. Everyone else is quiet for another long moment, each in their own thoughts, most of them thinking about Talyn.

John hesitantly scratches the back of his neck. "Are you sure that's such a good idea?" Aeryn shoots a look at him, but she's behind him to the side, and he doesn't see. "Can't she uh, wait until we find a safer place? Like before with the contraceptive shield?"

Pilot bristles, a mirror of the look Aeryn's aiming at the back of John's head.

Perhaps a sense of the disquiet is what causes him to back-peddle. "I mean, Tormented Space can't be healthy for her baby."

Rygel adds, "And we need another crazy Leviathan like we need another John Crichton."

The look bounces again, this time from John to Stark, cutting the Banik off mid-giggle.

"The Leviathans tell Moya that if an offspring survives the first weekens of gestation, it has the adaptation to tolerate Tormented Space." In his den, Pilot leans over his console, seeming to come out of the clamshell up on command. "This is a rare opportunity, one she considers well worth taking."

"Fine." John raises his hands, abandoning the argument. "Okay."

Pilot barrels on, "And in phrasing this as a request, I was merely being polite. Moya will disable all non-Leviathan systems and she will mate. If you help us with the preparations we can accomplish this task sooner and reduce the amount of time we remain vulnerable. But DRDs have already begun removing the defense shield."

Newly arrived on command, Noranti tugs on Chiana's elbow pad. "We have a defense shield?"

Chiana shakes her head. "It's busted."

"How disappointing."

"You should have been there when it broke, you might've made a better Pilot than I did. I'm sure Moya's been screaming in his ear ever since she came out of starburst."

Noranti sighs and blinks. "The desire for offspring is one I've never experienced."

"I thought you were a grandma, Wrinkles."

"Oh, my progeny are several generations removed by now. I'm an ancestor." She shakes head in that spacey and pensive way she has. "When they were small, they were such messy little beings--"

"Messy?" Chiana wonders how grubby infants could be if the old woman thinks they're bad.

"Oh yes! And they needed constant attention. I just didn't like them very much until they matured and became interesting." Her tone turns rueful. "They all did the former but only a few did the latter."

Aeryn, Stark and John have already slipped out of command, so Chiana starts ushering the rest of the crew toward the doorway. "Well, you heard Pilot, let's get moving."

"Chiana," D'Argo's engaged his full captain voice, authoritative and deep, " we need to discuss this first."

"Discuss what?" Chiana turns to him, mouth open and head tilted back. "Just 'cause you're our Captain doesn't mean you get to tell Moya what to do."

D'Argo raises his hands in a calming gesture. "No one's saying that. Of course Moya can mate if she wants."

"Has anyone stopped to think why this is a monumentally bad idea?" Rygel zips over to the other two, hovering high.

"This will occasionally make us more vulnerable." D'Argo holds his hands out before him to placate both Rygel and Chiana. "But I don't see how we have much say in the matter."

Chiana jumps in. "Then what is there to discuss?"

Rygel answers, looking down on her from where he floats near D'Argo's head. "The great likelihood that the Peacekeepers altered Moya so that she can only produce gunships like Talyn."

The silence is broken by Pilot. "I have already stationed DRDs near the gestation chamber to analyze any offspring. If we detect any Peacekeeper tampering, it will be rejected, and Moya will try again."

"And what if the next one is the same? And the next, and the next?" Rygel glides over and down to face the clamshell. "What if she decides that something is better than nothing?"

Pilot rears his head up. "Moya promised her Maker that she would bring forth no more gunships. She will keep her promise. If she cannot have a normal child by a normal male Leviathan, then she will have none at all."

D'Argo's command voice mellows with concern. "We just don't want to see her go through the pain of losing a child again."

"This time is already different because it's Moya's choice." Chiana turns from the clamshell and cranes her head up to speak softly to D'Argo. "She's gone through all of that and she still wants to have another kid; what better mother could it have?"

***

The tactical display shows Moya drifting around the fringe of a cloud of ships. A feral Leviathan nudges along Moya's treblin side as she passes, causing a vibration that can only be felt. Chiana leans against Pilot's console. "Whoa, that one is sure friendly."

"This pod of females has never encountered a Leviathan in service before. They are curious."

"Is that why she wants everything taken offline, so they'll think she's wild, like they are?"

"She says it has to do with attracting the male."

"I thought there were more than one, you'd said there were 'new males' in this group."

"Moya has chosen the one she wants, and she has been signaling her willingness to mate." If Pilot had shoulders he'd shrug them. "But he has not responded. She is convinced that her non-Leviathan components are interfering with her electromagnetic scent."

"Changing for a male is never a good idea. Which one is he?"

A ship lights up near the center of the display. Chiana watches, and the male turns like a gauge as Moya circles the periphery. "He's watching her."

"Moya believes he is waiting for her. He has not mated since she arrived."

Chiana smiles. "She had him when she walked into the room."

Pilot leans toward her. "You may want to find a more secure place to stay. The sensor distorter has been removed and the zyntian filter is about to be taken offline. There may be sudden movement."

"Got it." Chiana darts across a walkway and out of the Pilot den.

***

"Captain D'Argo," Pilot hesitates, "once you power down the filter I will not be able to respond as quickly, and during the...mating process...there will be...many distractions for me to deal with. When Moya is sure of pregnancy she will let me know, and then we can reinstall all of the non-Leviathan systems, starting with the filter."

D'Argo solemnly nods. "Understood."

"You may disengage the filter."

He bends down and pops off the outer casing.

Stark stretches his hand out in front of himself, even though Pilot can't see him. "Pilot, is there anything we can do to help you?"

"Yes." Pilot switches to a ship wide broadcast. "No one is to enter my den until I say so. No one."

Pilot ends the transmission. After a long while the sound of tools being passed back and forth is broken by Stark's hesitant question. "You don't think he--?"

"In my experience, Crichton's the one he has to worry about barging in on anything."

***

Aeryn rises to her feet as John coils up cabling from the broken defense screen, now severed completely from Moya's systems. She tosses a spanner back into a tool carry-all on the floor and wipes her hand across her brow. "I'm leaving."

"Leaving where?" She's through the doorway before John can ditch the cables. He shouts after her as he jogs to catch up. "Where are you going?"

"I'm hot, John." She's walking fast, her eyes are wide and her face sweaty. "I need to get out of here right now."

He notices that it's warm, but it doesn't seem bad enough to warrant the reaction. It occurs to him that maybe she's more sensitive to it because of the baby, and that kicks him into protective mode. "Okay, let's take a Sunday drive, then. Let me get ready."

She breaks into a run. "I'm leaving *now*, I have to leave *right now*."

"Easy--" He grabs her arm and she swings her other fist at him, connecting with his shoulder. "Aeryn!" He wraps his arms and legs around her and takes her to the floor. She screams bloody murder and wrestles against him but she doesn't try anything lethal. He shouts over her, trying to get her attention.

Hell breaks loose over the comms, but Pilot filters everyone out but D'Argo. "What's going on? What is your location? Do we have intruders?"

Aeryn stills, and her scream sobs into a whimper. John can feel a friction burn on his arm from being pushed along the floor. He realizes that he's still talking to her, his voice a scared monotone. "Aeryn, baby, it's okay, calm down, it's alright, just breathe, we'll get you someplace cool, just calm down."

D'Argo takes on a similar tone, crooning through both of their comms. "John, we know you're near the docking bay, Chiana and Stark will be there soon--just tell me what's happening."

"It's okay, D."

Aeryn's voice is thin like a bare metal wire. "I need to go." She's stopped whimpering, stopped struggling, and John disentangles himself and helps her to her feet.

"I know. We're going. It'll be okay. Come on." Her hand is clammy in his.

"Is Aeryn alright?"

"Yeah, D'Argo, she's just a little hot that's all." Hot and overwhelmed and panicky--it's the last one that actually frightens him. "We're going to take the Prowler out while we can and get a breath of fresh vacuum, cool her off."

"Take a transport pod, the Leviathans may attack anything else. I'll open the docking bay manually."

He chivvies her into the docking bay and into a pod. The hair around her face is wet with sweat and tears and tendrils snake toward her cheekbones like spilled ink. Within minutes they're flying free.

He dials down the environmentals. Cold seeps into the tiny vessel and chills her ferocity, gives them both a measure of calm. John knows he's in over his head, but right now he can't even see the surface above. He's used to her scaring him with her detached menace, but this was raw fear.

When he calms down enough, it hits him that this is likely fallout from the Scarrans, the normal Sebacean fear of heat delirium amplified through the persistent application of torture. Gotta love the Scarrans. He reaches across, offering his free hand. She grips it tight, looking straight ahead through the view screen as they move away from Moya and come around.

The heat itself is easier to explain--Moya is preparing to mate.

The male is the same size as she is, but instead of bronze he's a Caribbean shade of blue. Even his running lights are the color of hot blue stars. He and Moya circle each other, turning lazily on every conceivable axis as their orbits around each other tighten, aerial maneuvers in slow motion, stunning amounts of mass going very fast for their size. Now they're almost touching, bellies maybe a few motras away from each other, head to tail like Pisces. They pass like daredevils without incident, pull away, and go through the sequence again.

He can see a slight reflection of Aeryn's face in the view screen, and she has the same open-mouthed, open-eyed expression that he has.

Moya and the male keep dancing this tango until all at once, during the last grazing pass belly to belly, head to tail, all the running lights on both Leviathans flare bright. The male wraps his tri-tail around Moya's head and shifts his own head into the hollow of Moya's tail.

They're connected, spinning slowly as one being. Sex in zero G. "I'll be damned. Leverage."

It's soothing to watch them spin, and Aeryn's death-grip on his hand eases.

With a violent flick, Moya and the male separate and drift apart. The male arcs back toward Moya and scrapes his nose down her hammond side and up her treblin side, causing her running lights to flicker and then flare as he moves off to a distant spot.

Her words ride out on a sigh. "It's done."

"Yeah." John shakes himself and activates the comm. "Hey D., how's the weather in there?"

D'Argo's voice has slipped into his hushed soft rock DJ tone. "Lighting is back to normal and the temperature is quickly falling to optimal. I'm opening the docking bay. I'll engage the docking web for you."

John turns to Aeryn. "You ready to go back in?"

She looks tired and a bit flushed, but there's no trace of the previous panic. She nods and smiles without showing her teeth.

"Okay." He switches over to comms. "We're on our way."

Her coloring is better when they land. She shrugs off his assistance and walks down the ramp under her own steam. It's not much cooler than it was when they left, but the air is drier and whatever triggered her panic seems to have disappeared.

"I'm hungry, how about you?" She sounds bright, almost chipper, and John studies her for a moment before nodding.

"Yeah, I could eat. Let's see if there're any leftovers in the kitchen."

***

D'Argo strums the shilquin and Noranti chops in counterpoint. Chiana thumbs through a book of baby names and John watches through the view port for anything that isn't a Leviathan. Aeryn is finishing her third bowl of the stew du jour.

Chi bends the book open to eliminate the spine shadow on the page. "How about this one, Mah-ree?"

John speaks without turning around. "Mary."

She sits across from Aeryn, so she shows the book to her. "What's it mean?"

Aeryn's mouth is full, and she chews while she reads where Chi is pointing. She shakes her head.

"Not good?"

"Bitter. It means bitter." John answers for Aeryn. "I'm going to keep watch with Ryg on command." He leaves and everyone's eyes watch him go except Aeryn's. She swallows, then drinks from her cup before she speaks.

"It says 'sea of bitterness'. Right there, that's the word for 'sea'."

"It probably means salty." Noranti scatters panek meal on the counter. "Most seas are salty. Makes the fish taste better."

"Sea is a good word." Chiana scans as she turns the pages. "Here's another one with 'sea' in the definition, Meh-reh-dit-huh. It's kind of long...Aha, this is better--Meh-ri, that just means 'sea'. Or this one Meh-ri-el." She offers the book for Aeryn to decipher the meaning of the words.

"Shining sea."

D'Argo stops strumming. "Why does it have to mean sea?"

Chiana gestures toward the view port with the book. "They look like they're swimming out there. You got any better suggestions?"

He quietly noodles on the shilquin as he thinks. "Just read the names out loud. When we hear a nice one, then we'll worry about what it means."

"We should pick some female names as well," Noranti punches into the dough, then begins kneading, "in case Moya bears a daughter."

She flips back and forth through the book. "Huh. I guess I was already in the females section. Hey, male names are shorter. How about this one, Sah-eed."

"Sah-eed." D'Argo repeats it, pleased with the sound. "What does it mean?"

Aeryn leans over to look where Chi is pointing and reads, "Happy."

***

Stark sets a piece on top of a stack of chips on Rygel's side of the tadek board and the whole stack changes color.

Rygel leans forward. "You're not half the blithering lunatic you pretend to be, are you?"

Stark lets a grin flicker across his face, but keeps rocking back and forth, staring at the board.

John walks in and heads straight for a console to check the sensor array. "Hear anything from Pilot?" There's a great deal of data streaming through the sensors, but all of it so far reads as Leviathan or background radiation.

"Pilot's about as talkative right now as this frellnik." Rygel pokes Stark, who grunts and continues to stare at the board. He hovers toward John. "Why are you so impatient?"

"I'm not impatient. It's simply that the sooner this is over the safer we'll be."

Rygel gestures with the tadek stick. "I'm sure Moya is saddened by your inconvenience."

"Rygel, I don't begrudge Moya at all, I just don't like how vulnerable we are right now."

"Moya brought us into Tormented Space. Who do you think bore the brunt of that torment until we could find a proper filter? Moya risked madness to keep us safe, and what she asks in return is that we don't get in her way for a few days."

"I know. We owe her. And I'm glad to do this, I'm glad she found something to make her happy. I just hope that it turns out for the best."

Stark has come up to John's side, his one hand picking at the sleeve of his other arm. "It's not about debts. It's about love."

"She loves us," Rygel hovers back to the tadek board, "and we owe her."

Stark gives John a sad doe-eyed look. "Children are the physical manifestation of the hope of their parents." He follows Rygel back to the board.

***

D'Argo and Aeryn are the only ones left in the room, with the scent of fresh-baked panek cooling on racks. Aeryn rolls each name off her tongue while D'Argo practices new songs on the shilquin.

Aeryn reads from the name book that Chiana left. "Zelene, sunshine. Zemirah, song of joy."

He takes a break from his complicated strumming. "Song of joy Sun?"

"Better than Sunshine Sun. What are you playing?"

"I've been wanting to practice some of the Earth songs I like." D'Argo glances out the view port as he begins a wandering strutting melody. "Seems like a good time to work on it."

"That one doesn't sound like the rest."

"I switched to Al Green. I think the Barry White is simply not suited to a single shilquin, I can't get the sound right." He shakes his head, disappointed.

"I like this better. Are there words?"

"Yes but they're in English. Chiana knows some of them."

Aeryn smiles, and goes back to her book. "Zera. Zerdali, wild ap-ri-cot whatever that is. Zilpah, dignified; Zilpah Sun."

"Remember this is also Crichton's child." D'Argo plucks quieter while he speaks. "Dignified might not be the best choice."

"Good point. Ziva, bright, radiant; Ziva Sun."

He shakes his head no, letting the shake evolve into a nod with the beat as he picks out a sensual melody.

"Zoe, life. Zohreh, happy; Zohreh Sun." Aeryn shakes her own head, lips pursed. Then her eyebrows dance up. "Zola."

D'Argo tries out the sound, plucking with each syllable. "Zola Sun."

"Zola, piece of earth; Zola Sun." Aeryn picks up the mug and takes a long drink.

D'Argo stops playing and gestures at the view port. "The male is returning."

The mug hits the table with a clunk. "I have to go."

D'Argo slings his shilquin across his back. "Okay."

Aeryn stops near the doorway, turns around, and has to look up to meet D'Argo's eyes. "Where are you going?"

"With you."

She makes a noise in her throat. "Fine. But I'm piloting."

***

John grabs the console as the gravity fluctuates and the ship goes into a roll. "Pilot, what's going on?"

Rygel hovers like he's on gimbals as the ship lurches around him. "They're at it again. Haven't you noticed the humidity rising?" Rygel hums as he chuckles. "Mating is a process, Crichton, not an event. Hmmm-mmm-mmm."

"Aeryn." John activates his comm as he heads into the corridor. "Get ready, we're going on another Sunday drive. Aeryn?" There's no response, so he breaks into a run. "Aeryn! Shit. Pilot! Pilot, where is Aeryn?"

There's a burst of feedback as Pilot engages the channel. "Officer Sun and Captain D'Argo are on a transport pod at a safe distance from Moya."

His boots squeak as he drops out of the run and into a slow walk. "Good. That's good. Can you patch me through?"

The floor lurches under his feet. When he catches his fall against a corridor rib, it's hot to the touch. "Pilot!"

Pilot growls, "Whatever it is can wait, Commander!"

"Just--"

Pilot cuts him off with a piercing wash of feedback.

***

"Hey old man, you stayed for the ride this time? Come on." Chiana plucks at the sleeve of John's t-shirt as she passes him at a run, heading toward the command deck.

He follows her, because if communications aren't totally frelled he might be able to reach the transport pod directly.

The gravity has stabilized but he can still feel Moya's every roll and turn. There's a wormhole about to open up and he can feel that point of space spinning around him, like closing your eyes on the teacup ride and feeling the sun traveling around your body.

The stars wheel and turn, and the male rises like a sun across the view screen, rotating on his long axis like a high diver. Chiana gasps and croons like she's watching fireworks. John sits cross-legged on the floor and closes his eyes.

Rygel lands his chair next to John. "Now you know what we were going through while you and Aeryn played voyeur."

Between the swampy heat and the wormsign careening around him he's feeling pretty sick. "I haven't been motion sick since the Vomit Comet." He opens his eyes in time to see the dorsal curve of the male eclipse the screen, running lights speeding across like the view from a plane about to touch down at night.

There's the wormhole smell. Like lake water up his nose. It's close to opening.

Chiana calls out, "Here he comes!"

There's a soft lurch and a thrumming that seems to go back and forth through the ship a few times.

"And now we spin!" She laughs, head back and twirling in a circle John can't watch.

He remains on the floor, letting his stomach settle as the wormhole spot turns in a simple orbit around him. "Three." He feels the wormhole well up. "Two." Feels the growth of the bubble slow. "One." Feels it pop. He points his finger at the floor and slowly raises it to the view screen.

Stars and Leviathans slip from the bottom left to the top right of the display. At the bottom edge, the wormhole appears. As it travels across they can see a few Leviathans steer into it and disappear. It slips off the screen, and a few moments later it closes.

He can't spot the transport pod visually, but when he gets to his feet and checks a console he can see where they're hovering out of harm's way. "External comms are out."

Chiana clicks her tongue "You have no sense of mood, do you?"

***

"That...is beautiful." D'Argo watches the mated pair spin, bronze and blue. Then the wormhole opens and D'Argo notices that the transport pod itself is slowly turning.

Aeryn is transfixed, her whole attention on the Leviathans.

D'Argo checks the stabilizers and confirms that they're not stationary. "Aeryn, we're turning."

Her mouth is parted, her eyes wide and glossy. She grips the steering lever with a firm hand that's almost caressing the metal. Pregnancy has begun to soften her features, but the warm flush to her skin isn't from the baby.

"Aeryn?"

She leans forward in her seat and arches her back. A sudden movement onscreen catches his attention and he sees the Leviathans have separated and the male is moving back toward Moya.

D'Argo keys a command into the center console, switching pilot functions to his steering lever. He keeps his eyes to the screen and watches the male run his nose up one side of Moya and down the other. He ignores the scent of Sebacean arousal and tries to think of what Lo'Laan might have done in his situation.

***

John hails the transport pod as soon as the power surges back into the communications array. "Aeryn, you okay out there? You get out in time?"

"I'm fine, John." Her peeved tone is just as reassuring as her actual voice. "We left before the heat had time to affect me."

"Good to hear it. Environmentals are coasting down to normal, you guys can head back in as soon as these two get some distance." John heads to the docking bay to meet them.

Chiana taps her comm. "Pilot, how's Moya doing so far without the filter?"

He appears on a clamshell for her and Stark. "Moya is concentrating on the mating cycle, and so far she is able to ignore the effects of Tormented Space."

They speak at the same time, each asking the same essential question.

"It is still too soon to tell if Moya has conceived. Female Leviathans come into fertility after the first mating. If she has retained this ability and they are both healthy, she will eventually conceive with this male. Then we will wait, to ensure that her offspring can survive here."

"Is there any way to keep the temperature from rising so much? Even if it's just one room? Aeryn's having trouble with the heat--"

Stark snickers.

Chi shoots him a puzzled look. He sobers, and she continues. "It'd be safer if she didn't have to keep going out in a transport pod. If not, if we could get a pre-frell warning," she smiles, "that'd be just as good."

Pilot tilts his head, nods. "I should be able to isolate a small portion of one tier from the temperature fluctuation...yes." He keys in a sequence of commands. "The tier section containing Officer Sun's room should remain unaffected."

"Thank you, Pilot."

***

Aeryn checks that the comms are off. "You seized the helm from me."

D'Argo keeps his gaze steady on the navigation. "You haven't told John about it, have you?"

"Told him about what?"

"That it's Moya's mating heat that's affecting you, and not the temperature."

Her laughter is nervous and it sounds odd coming from Aeryn. He turns to look at her. She stops forcing the laugh out, and D'Argo can see fear at the edge of her expression.

He calls her on it. "Something is happening."

She shakes her hair off her shoulder. "I feel...strange. Not bad, but..."

"But, what?"

Aeryn runs her hand along the steering lever, and blinks. "I feel Moya. I feel her like a Pilot would." The words come faster, like she's figuring it out as she speaks. "I'm good at Pilot things. I can still calculate control sequences without really thinking about it. I can tell her condition from the way she sounds and the way she feels when I press my hand against a wall. I never thought about it, I just did it."

D'Argo eases back on the propulsion, approaching Moya slowly. "And it's getting worse?"

"Not worse." Aeryn turns in her seat to face him. "It's not bad, it's just strange. It's almost like when I was bonded with Talyn--it's more information than I'm used to, that's all. It's distracting."

"You can sense how Moya feels by touching one of her walls?"

"A general sense." She shrugs. "Just, right now, I can't *not* sense how Moya feels."

D'Argo hesitates before he asks, "So...when you were doing your Stark impersonation earlier?"

"I wasn't expecting the reaction I felt from her." Aeryn blushes and replies with her impersonation of Pilot. "Moya was very nervous."

"Nervous?"

She clears her throat. "I don't think she'd mated before."

He drops the subject, easing the pod into the docking bay to land.

When he reaches to open the airlock, she grabs his wrist. "Don't tell John. He'd only worry more than he already does."

"Is it something to worry about?" He lays his other hand on hers.

"No. It's just distracting."

"Then as long as you have someone else flying for you when you have to leave, I won't mention it."

***

John hadn't noticed how the warm humidity had persisted even between Moya's bouts of fever, optimal plus two was a temp he could easily adjust to and ignore. Ten minutes in Aeryn's now chilly quarters and he notices how sweaty he's become during the day. "I'm gonna take a shower."

Aeryn nods, pulling a length of clean oily cloth through the pulse chamber of her gun. When he unbuckles his holster she holds out her hand. "I'll clean yours as well."

"Gee thanks, honey. That's awful swell of you to offer." He hands Winona off with a grin, grip first.

Aeryn shrugs. "I've got a cleaning kit open." She ejects Winona's chakkan oil cartridge, catching it with her other hand. She pauses to yawn, then tips the cartridge back and forth a few times to check the oil level.

He pulls his socks off using his toes, and shucks his shirt. He strips while she field-strips his weapon, clothes in a pile on the floor and parts arrayed on the bed. He expects she'll be asleep when he gets out of the shower. Gun cleaning is like tooth brushing or putting on lotion, Aeryn does it before bed to help her get sleepy.

They probably taught it to her like some kids learn bedtime prayers, by rote, to calm them down and reassure them, and to make certain the knowledge sunk in deep. Now I lay me down to sleep, I pray the Lord my gun to clean.

When he gets out of the shower and opens the lavatory door, the room is dark. He makes a visual check before he turns off the lavatory light, plotting his course across the room and to the bed she's sprawled on, in her skivvies and dead to the world. The changes have been subtle so far, easily missed or dismissed. It seems like he's been living with the idea of this pregnancy for years, imagined her in all the stages of bearing, delivering and raising this child.

Compared to his fecund fantasy, the reality is both ridiculous and terrifying. An inch or two of extra pudge underneath the waistband of her under-shorts, a firm roundness still framed by her oblique abdominals and invisible when she's dressed. A precious thing, a materializing person he wants desperately to meet and love and protect, and there it exists, in that one spot of the universe, in the middle of the bed, in the middle of the person he's still learning how to live with.

He makes his way to her through the dark. Even her sheets are cool. He eases into bed, nudging her limbs out of the way and making a space for himself. She moves around in her sleep, turning, and he fits himself around her like she's a teddy bear. His one arm burrows under the pillow and his other crooks around her. He slips half of his hand under her waistband and palms the growing curve of her belly.

***

Chiana throws the hot sheet off herself and rolls onto her back. After a moment she tries lying on the floor, which is a bit cooler. Then she grabs the sheet, shakes it out, and folds it into a pallet, thinking it might make the floor softer.

She stands up, elbows cocked back and lips pressed together. She looks at the furry comforter, which is soft enough for the floor but would also negate the coolness of it.

She can sleep on cold cracked permacrete if she has to, she's done so for monens at a time. But only when she has to.

She exhales, gives up on sleep, and puts some clothes on. When she opens her door, a painted DRD activates itself and follows her. She stops by the kitchen and grabs a piece of panek, the DRD cruising next to her left foot.

She looks down at it. She thinks about repainting it, maybe blue like Moya's lover. What if Moya's child turns out to be blue? Maybe she should paint it a different color, like green? Maybe she shouldn't bother, since she may not have to look at it much in the future. "Ibiz."

The DRD whistles a question.

"Guide dog."

Ibiz beeps twice.

Chiana closes her eyes and takes a deep breath. "Command deck."

Ibiz bumps into her left foot, then rolls away. Chiana follows him, listening to the clicks and tones as he leads her through the corridors, ramps and turns on the way to the command deck.

Ibiz leads her into the room, then nudges against her foot to stop her. She reaches her hands out and makes contact with an instrument console. She opens her eyes. "Good boy, Ibiz."

He whistles.

Pilot appears on the clamshell. "Chiana."

"How's it going, Pilot?"

"Moya and I are well, if somewhat distracted. Officer Sun's quarters are at optimal minus two, and should not rise above optimal even if there is some warming during the next mating cycle."

"That's good to hear." The edge of the open wormhole peeks at the bottom of the view screen. Chiana looks at the chronometer because Crichton would want to know--nine hours since the last time she saw it open. She steps in front of the console and sits down with her back to it. "When is the next mating cycle?"

"I do not know precisely." Pilot tips his head. "Soon."

The wormhole closes and disappears. Chiana searches the star field full of Leviathans for Moya's mate.

"Chiana."

"Yeah, Pilot?"

"When your eyes were injured, I was not able to help Commander Crichton with your DRD. The older a Leviathan is, the more sophisticated the DRDs become, and it was unwilling to accept my programming. Even though your sight has returned…"

Chiana looks away from the clamshell.

"I thought you might find a different setting more comfortable for your eyes." The view screen goes black, then flickers back on. "As they heal."

The magnification and contrast have been boosted, and the depth of field reduced. The Leviathans stand out clear against the distant stars.

"You can adjust the distance and focus from a control panel on the console. If you tap the green light in the middle, all settings will return to normal and the control panel is removed from the display. You can call it back up by tapping the green systems light on the comms panel."

Chiana darts up and finds her secret control panel. "Pilot--" Her view of the Leviathans blurs until she blinks and presses the heels of her hands against her eyes. She wipes the tears on her pants and smiles at Pilot.

"Chiana, Moya and the male are approaching each other once more."

"Got it." She activates ship wide comms. "For anyone who's still awake," Her throat catches and she lays her hand over her comm badge to clear her throat. "For anyone still awake, this is your pre-frell warning."

***

He wakes up just in time for the fellatio.

It's more disorienting than he'd have thought, and it takes him a few moments to parse the situation. He actually reaches to Aeryn's side of the bed looking for her and is concerned when he finds her pillow empty. There's a slurp and a surge of pleasure and it all clicks into place.

More or less.

Her room is cool, and it's deep in the sleep cycle. Remnants of the freshly closed wormhole are dissipating a few hundred metras behind the headboard. This part of space is riddled with them, and he's been gathering tag and release data on every one they come across. As he comes fully awake he gives a passing thought to the recording programs he'd set up, satisfied that all the relevant data will be waiting for him to look at in the morning.

Her nails scratch a gentle trail up his belly and across a nipple. He takes her hand and slips her thumb into his mouth and sucks his tongue around it. She moans and he feels the vibration travel from his cock up into his brain. He caresses down her arm and brushes her hair away from her face. He slides his hand down her back and curls his body after it, easing her onto her side and pushing his head between her knees with a trail of sucking kisses.

She's waiting for him to get to it, lightly caressing him from inner thigh to lower back and swirling her tongue achingly slowly around the head of his cock.

He can't see anything in the dark but he knows his way around her body by touch and scent, and he can taste her wetness when he's only partway up her thigh.

In case he thought about teasing her and making her wait, she pulls him out of her mouth against suction, then loudly takes him back in. Pop, slurp. Pop, slurp. It's maddening that he can't see this.

"For anyone who's still awake," Chiana's voice is in muffled stereo, coming from the comms on Aeryn's side counter and in John's pile of clothes.

John raises his head a few inches, so both of his ears are free. Aeryn's about to do the popping thing but she stops and listens.

Apparently Chiana was yawning, because she starts talking on the tail end of it. "For anyone still awake, this is your pre-frell warning."

In response, Aeryn does the popping thing, continuing right where she left off.

"Oh for fuck's sake." He stops teasing her, sliding his stubbly cheek lightly up the rest of her thigh and making it a Leviathan-style duet session.

***

John uses both hands to work the lather all over her scalp, and braces himself against the wall of the shower when she sighs and leans back against his chest. "Aeryn."

She hums.

"Let's get married."

She pulls back upright, yanking her head from his hands. "You don't remember? You asked and I said yes."

"No, no. Married."

"Well what's this, then?" She shows him her hand, fingers curled into a fist save for the ring finger sticking up. "Besides a way to lose a finger if it gets caught on something?"

"Not just a ring, but a ceremony and vows and we actually get *married*."

She steps under the spray and rinses her hair. "Ceremony and vows--didn't you do that already on the Royal Planet? I thought humans couldn't do that more than once?"

"Didn't you watch any soap operas on Earth?" He shakes his head and begins soaping himself up. "No. No, the Royal Planet doesn't count. Katralla's married to Tyno now, I was just a stunt groom for that one--well, stud groom might be more like it--you're distracting me. And you're hogging the water." He sets the soap into a wall niche. "Point is, there's no reason not to do this."

She trades places with him. "Fine. We can do it right now if you'd like. What's the vow?"

He rinses his hair and wipes the water from his face. "Aeryn, we can't just marry each other, we need someone to officiate, a priest or a judge. Hell, even the captain of a cruise ship."

Aeryn's coiling her hair to wring the water out of it, waiting for him to get to the point.

"We're five miles off shore, we could get D'Argo to marry us. We're already on the Love Boat."

Aeryn stops wringing. "You're not making any sense."

"It makes perfect sense." He changes tack, backing up and trying to explain. "Listen, it's a two part thing. The first part is that you want to, the second part is that you do. The desire, and then the action. You load the pulse chamber, then you fire."

"So what you're saying is that this second part is more important than the first."

He kneels down on the ceramic floor of the fresher and wraps his arms around her, resting his chin on the slight curve of her belly. "You get knocked up, then you set the baby free. You say 'yes', and then you say 'I do'."

The shower continues to spray, pelting his back and beading water on her skin as she peers down at him, tense and edgy, as if he just appeared out of nowhere, grabbed her, and offered her a Rumplestiltskin bargain instead of asking to set a date--in short, she's leery and grave, but willing to humor him if he'd just stand up and stop being strange for an arn at a stretch. "Of course I do."

***

Stark has been rocking and staring at the board for an eternity, arms folded and hands tucked into his armpits. Rygel finally smacks the table with his tadek stick. "Make your frelling move or forfeit it."

He darts a hand out, shifts one of his towers back two squares, and reburies his hand under the other arm once more.

With narrowed eyes, Rygel assesses the move. "Frell."

Stark stops rocking. "What are you going to do for the wedding?"

Rygel gestures with his game stick. "Grace it with my presence."

"I was thinking of setting up a Delvian sacred space for them to make their vows in."

"I have better uses for my time than playing Minister of Ceremonies to their two-person court."

"Chiana is going to sing. Noranti is making an aphrodisiac dessert for after."

"Trust Noranti to be both crass *and* redundant." Rygel pushes his tallest tower to the next forward square.

Stark watches the move, and nods ever so slightly.

Rygel bends his wrist and continues pushing the tower to the diagonal square next to it. "I believe that makes a high double. Let's see you wriggle out of that one."

"That's a lovely move." Stark smirks. "And I knew you wouldn't be able to resist it."

Rygel laughs. "Nice bluff."

"Is it?"

He laughs harder. "The saner you sound, the more I know you're making it up."

Stark plays with the buckle at his neck, murmuring to himself. "That's an interesting observation."

***

The dreams have grown along with the incipient bump under Aeryn's waistband. In tonight's offering, there's a smell of stale cigarette smoke and the echoes of bowling.

The alley is carpeted in a worn ugly blue pattern, and the yellow plastic chairs are that ergonomic shape that only looked good when Uhura was sitting in one. The place is empty except for a few people in matching shirts at the far end, and a mismatched pair in the lanes in front of John. He walks down the steps, past the line of chairs and crosses to the island of two chairs and a podium desk where they keep score.

Harvey sits in one scorekeeper's chair, talking in low tones to a girl with a long brown braid down her back, sitting in the other chair. She can't be more than seven or eight. A large black stereo headset, like the kind a DJ wears, rides high on her head, just above her ears.

John comes around to the front, behind the lanes and in front of the desk. Clear wraparound eye protectors distort her large eyes and make her look like a little bug.

Harvey leans down to quiz her. "What is the first rule?" He indicates the pulse pistol resting on the desk, which is also visible on the overhead projector, a black silhouette eclipsing the score sheet above John's head.

Her gaze flicks from Harvey to John, and back again. She reaches up and shifts the pistol so that it points to John's left. Her childlike voice is raspy, like her mom's. "Always treat the weapon as if it is loaded."

"And the other three rules?" From the outline, it looks like the pistol has been modified, the finger ridges smoothed out and the grip made skinnier to accommodate tiny hands.

"Never let the weapon point at anything I am not prepared to destroy. Keep my finger off the trigger until the sights of the weapon are on my chosen target. Be sure of my target and what is beyond my target." Her feet are shod in sneakers, and the loops and ends of the shoestrings dangle as she idly swings her feet above the scuffed linoleum floor.

"Excellent, child." Harvey hands her the pulse pistol, grip first. "Now, let's assess your proficiency."

She hops off the seat and takes the pistol, aiming it at the floor away from everyone's feet.

"Hello John. Hit the pin re-set, would you?"

"I was going to teach her baseball."

"Team sports? Not at all practical, John. Re-set the pins."

John leans down and presses the large red button on the ball return. He watches the little girl position the ear protectors into place with her free hand. "Does her mother know about these lessons?"

"Her mother adapted the weapon for her." Harvey pats the seat next to him, and John sits down with a sigh. The pins are racked and stacked, and the little girl waits at the end of the lane, pistol down at her side. "You will not be able to protect her forever."

"I know."

"As soon as she is able, she must learn to protect herself."

"I realize that."

Harvey turns his attention to the lane. "Proceed."

The little girl brings the pistol up and starts firing at the pins, picking them off one by one, right to left.

Harvey shouts, "Cover!"

The girl stops firing and executes a tumble roll, in a few microts she's slid underneath the ball return and is firing at the pins from cover.

Harvey shouts, "Secure the area!"

The little girl squirms, sneakers sticking out from under the ball return, squeaking against the wood of the lane. In a flash she's under the ball return for the next set of lanes, heading for the far end of the alley where the bowlers are.

"What's she doing?" John gets to his feet and starts running, but he's not even to the first ball return when she starts firing, and the screaming is over by the time he reaches her.

Harvey gets there right before John does, grabbing John's hand before he can fish the child out from under the ball return.

"What you do not yet seem to realize, is that she will have to be as hard you are to survive."

***

Stark makes almost no noise as he comes into the room and sits down at the work table across from Aeryn, but she follows him with her ears and begins talking to him without looking up from her work. "Hand me that circuit fuser, would you? On that tray, with the red handle."

He selects the tool from a tray down the bench and hands it to her. "Crichton wanted me to tell you that 'the soup is on'."

"Thank you." She slips the circuit fuser into the guts of the component she's working on.

"Are you going to come and eat?"

Aeryn slowly turns her wrist to hit the right spot with the tool. "No."

"Have you eaten at all today?"

"Haven't been hungry."

He shrugs. "Crichton is concerned."

Aeryn sets the fuser down, turns the component over, and activates a switch. It gives out a whir that winds down to silence. She sighs. "Wrong circuit."

"He's worried that you've been eating like a Kalish lately, going without food and then gorging like Rygel."

"Hand me that circuit cutter, would you?"

Stark waits for her to make eye contact.

Aeryn looks up from the component and gestures at the tool tray at the end of the bench. "Looks like the first one, with a black handle."

He reaches over to the tool tray and snags the cutter. "Are you coming to eat?"

She takes the cutter from him. "I'm not hungry." Her hands hold the tool and the component, and they lie loose on the table.

"I understand, but Crichton does not."

Aeryn makes a noise in her throat and goes back to work with the cutter. "Crichton has been taking an unhealthy interest in things that are none of his concern."

"You're not very smart, are you?"

Aeryn pulls the cutter out of the component, and her gaze pins Stark. He doesn't seem to notice the implied threat.

"It's a tool like any other." His words speed up and his voice rises. "You've used it, he's used it, you've been at the mercy of it, and you still don't recognize when it's in your own hand."

Her grip tightens on the tool in her hand, ready to demonstrate her complete understanding of its uses.

Stark catches himself, laying his hands flat on the table. His voice is soft. "You've got a hostage."

She's incredulous. "A hostage."

He keeps up his end of the stare.

"That's ridiculous."

"Is it?"

Aeryn digs the tool into the component. "Go tell Crichton I'll eat when I'm hungry."

Stark shrugs. "You're the boss--"

"What did you say?" She looks at him sharply. Not only English, but the same sound and inflection as if John had said it.

"What?"

"What you said, why did you say that?"

He blushes and turns his face so the metal is prominent. "I'm sorry. Things slip out sometimes, I don't even realize it. I'm very sorry." He stands to go, but she drops the cutter and grabs his sleeve.

"Don't."

Half-standing, he slowly sinks back down onto the seat.

"It's okay. I wasn't expecting it, that's all."

Stark lays his hand on hers, pats it. "You and Rygel and I are the only ones left."

She slips her hand out from under his.

Stark lets his hand come to rest on the table. "Rygel told me about Talyn and Crais."

Aeryn slides the cutter into the component.

"Such strength and such innocence." He taps his fingers lightly. "It's hard to believe he has gone to the other side, I can feel his echoes."

She feels her way inside to the wrongly fused circuit, then activates the cutter. "Talyn or Crais?"

Her tone implies strongly that he should only be talking about one or the other, and not the unspoken third.

Stark rolls his shoulders as if shrugging off a hand. "I was never bonded to Crais. But Talyn…he allowed me to share his thoughts."

"You feel echoes of Talyn." She sets down the tool. "What do they feel like?"

"Powerful." His hand smoothes the tabletop. "Exciting. It's like love, in a way, it wraps around your heart and caresses it. Before it starts squeezing. Before it rips it free from your body and wrings every last drop of--"

"Stark!"

He lays a hand on his chest and murmurs. "Still beating."

"Right." Aeryn considers going to the kitchen. If she stays, there's no telling how long Stark will want to talk. If she goes, John will pester her until she either eats or makes him angry. She sighs. Maybe she'll be hungry by the time she's finished this rebuild. She decides to stay and talk to Stark instead. "Are you sure you're feeling Talyn?"

"Talyn…"

When she looks up at him, he's staring at the component in her hands. She notices that he's shaved his head clean again, leaving only a warm shadow of the hair growing below the skin. If she went against the grain it'd be rough, but if she went from crown to forehead he'd be smooth. She scratches the pad of her thumb across an edge of metal. "Talyn what?"

"Liked you."

Aeryn turns the component over in her hands, bumps and edges under her fingers.

"Warm, like flying into the sun." Stark's brow furrows, as if he's either tuning something in or out. "And hollow, just out of reach, straining towards--"

"Desire." Aeryn plucks the circuit fuser from the tabletop decisively.

Stark lifts his eyebrow and his lips go soft in awe. "That's a good word for it."

Aeryn nods. "Yes, I suppose it is."

"Lots of that going around."

She hums in agreement, sliding the fuser into the component and searching by feel for the right spot. Her hands are sweaty and her grip isn't precise enough, she keeps overshooting the mark and having to reposition the tool.

"Would you like me to hold that still for you?"

His hand rests, palm up on the table between them, still and square like a solid bulkhead. She sets the component onto it. "Yes. Thank you. I've been working on this thing for days, and now that I have everything back together it doesn't want to work."

She turns it, moving his fingers into the right spots to hold it steady without blocking her way. His fingernails are dry and smooth. She grips the fuser in one hand, using the other to move Stark's hand ever so slightly until the component meets the tool.

In a microt the circuit is fused. She pulls his thumb away and activates the component. The sound purrs, and her smile starts in her chest and works its way to her face.

"Is that how it's supposed to sound?"

"Yes."

His fingers splay away from the component, bending at angles that only males' fingers seem to do. Something about the way the third finger moves. She notices that his breathing is shallow and fast. She lays her hand on the component, to pick it up from his open palm, but he closes his hand, fingers lightly over hers. "It's not going to detonate, is it?"

There are warm spots on the metal, from where he was. "No." She shakes her head, clears her throat. "No, it's part of the inertial dampener…for the guidance system of my Prowler."

His thumb is resting on top of the middle joint of her middle finger. The slightest motion slides it up to the bend of the joint and back down the soft side of the finger.

She feels the blunt edge of the nail graze along every nerve in her body, and it makes her itch for more sensation.

She pulls the component from his hand in the same motion that brings her to her feet. "I'm sure he saved some for me."

Stark looks up from his empty hand, mouth open with a question. She leaves before he can ask it.

***

Stark shakes his head as he watches Aeryn leave, trying to parse what just happened while still feeling the shiver of it. When the component she was working on rolls into the room, he looks at it for a moment, uncomprehending, before he follows its path back through the doorway.

He finds Aeryn, out cold in a pile on the floor next to the corridor wall. He darts back into the room, listens, and hears nothing. He peers into the corridor, sees nothing, and pulls his head back into the room. He activates his comm, whispering, "D'Argo…"

D'Argo answers but Stark shushes him.

His whisper has an edge of panic. "We have intruders on board."

D'Argo's whisper manages to be calm and commanding at the same time. "What's happened, Stark? Where are you?" There are muffled voices on D'Argo's end of the communication. "Is Aeryn with you?"

"I'm in the third tier workshop. Aeryn is unconscious."

After a moment, D'Argo replies, "Pilot assures me that there are no intruders on board. John, Chiana and I are heading your way to check the area. Noranti wants to ask you some questions about Aeryn."

Stark sidles around the doorframe, scanning the corridor again. Aeryn hasn't moved, but she's breathing.

Noranti's voice pipes through his comm, jostled and uneven. "Is she breathing?"

"Yes."

It's clear that the old woman is running while she's talking. "How is her color?"

"What?"

"Is she flushed? Or peaked? Is she sweating? Is she lying still, or moving at all?"

Stark slides down the wall and reaches his hand out to Aeryn's arm. "She looks like she's sleeping."

"Oh! Good!"

Aeryn moves her arm, dragging her hand along the floor in a boneless sweep.

Noranti's dividing her sentences into breaths, not panting so much as conserving her wind. "She's probably...just fainted...if she's wearing…anything tight...go ahead...and loosen it."

Stark cranes his chin down and gives his comm a look. He can hear boot-steps pounding up the corridor. It's all he can do to get out of the way as D'Argo crashes down onto his knees and somehow skids right over to her.

"Aeryn! Are you all right?"

Her eyelids flutter and she squints up at him. "What are you doing here?" D'Argo helps her sit up. "Why am I on the floor?"

"Aeryn!"

Stark stands up and steps back, making room for John as he runs up and half-crouches, half-ricochets off the wall and comes to rest on her other side.

"Aeryn, baby, are you okay?" His hands are all over, on her arms, her legs, her cheek, brushing her hair off her neck. His fingertips linger under the line of her jaw. He flicks a look up at Stark. "What happened?"

Stark describes an empty space with his hands as he shrugs, nervous. "She fainted."

Footsteps tap up the corridor from the other direction, and Stark turns to find a slim white barrel aimed at him and then tilted down toward the floor. Chiana smirks, then reports to D'Argo. "There's no sign of anybody or any thing. What happened to Aeryn?"

Aeryn shoos John's hand away from her neck. "I stood up too fast."

"You hit your head on something?" Chiana holsters her pistol.

D'Argo clarifies. "She fainted."

She crouches down to study Aeryn. "What's that?"

Noranti chugs up the corridor and comes to a stop, skirts swaying. Her third eye is squeezed shut like it's closed against the wind. "Circulatory...adjustment...quite common...early in the ...gestational...cycle."

Chiana whispers to D'Argo, "Sebaceans hit the floor when they're pregnant?"

"Lo'Laan and I were aware it could happen, however, she was not a fainter."

Aeryn gathers her legs under herself and shoves at the crowd surrounding her. "I am not a fainter."

"Sure." Chiana gives a lopsided smile. "You were just a little tired, that's all."

Aeryn glares at her, then sweeps everyone with the same look. She speaks each word as if she's arming it and placing it into position. "I appreciate your concern, but I feel fine."

John's the only one who doesn't wander a step back or to the side. "Honey, I didn't quite hear you that time, you wanna repeat that without leaning against the wall?"

Aeryn pushes away from the wall and stands straight. Her smile is furious. "Better?"

John returns the same smile, vicious and candy-coated.

"I uh, I'm gonna go finish my meal before it gets any colder." Chiana scratches the back of her neck and starts walking away. "Hey Stark, you hungry?"

"No," he says, following her anyway.

"Um. Yes." D'Argo claps a gentle hand on Noranti's shoulder and turns her in the same direction. "I think I'd like another helping of those roasted delpas, myself."

Noranti tries to shake D'Argo's hand from her shoulder, protesting all the way up the corridor. "But they're going to--"

"Be left in peace," D'Argo growls.

"But they're so cute when they're--"

"Left in peace."

Aeryn walks off in the other direction, John close behind. "I don't want to talk about it."

"Aeryn, what if you'd had a welding torch in your hand? What if y--"

"I do not want to talk about it."

"Fine. We won't talk about it. But you're getting a DRD chaperone just like we did for Chiana."

"No." She turns on her heel and gets right up into his face. "I am not ill. I am not injured. I do not need to put my feet up, get more sleep, eat when you tell me to or be escorted around the ship like a prisoner."

"Okay." John's voice purrs from his chest, sweet and sarcastic. "Next time you want us to leave you on the floor until you come around on your own?"

She whips around and continues walking, her pace quicker. "It's getting hot again. I'm going to my quarters."

John cracks his neck and follows her as she quick-marches down the corridors, the air growing cooler as they approach her quarters.

***

Noranti enters the kitchen in a swish of skirts, addressing D'Argo and the world at large. "Objective mediation! That's what the situation calls for."

"There is no situation." D'Argo sits down in front of his abandoned plate and pokes the food with his spoon. "Aeryn's just dealing with her changing biology, that's all. Lo'Laan was a hezmot to deal with during the first three monens." The food passes inspection, so he loads up his spoon. "The last three weren't very fun, either."

Chiana pauses as she takes her seat. "She's going to be like that the whole time?"

He waits until he's swallowed. "The Sebacean gestation is nine monens long, for Luxans it is eleven. Lo'Laan and I needed genetic assistance to have Jothee, and her pregnancy was carefully monitored from the very beginning." He scoops another spoonful but doesn't eat it. "Watching my son grow...was an amazing experience."

Looking at her plate, Chiana reaches over and squeezes D'Argo's hand before she begins eating.

Rygel glides into the room and straight to the warmer where he stashed his plate. He tops off his helpings and nestles it in his lap, then goes over to park at the table. "False alarm, then? Heh."

Chiana grips her fork. "Would you rather we were actually invaded? Then they could have joined you for dinner."

"Oh, I'm sorry, should I have gone running off with the lot of you to get knocked on the head and captured?" He waves his utensil like a scepter. "My sincerest apologies. Next time I'll be sure to do that instead of manning Command."

D'Argo nods. "Thank you, Rygel."

"It was a good suggestion, it pleased me to follow through with it. Although there's not much I could have done, in any event."

Now that he has their attention, Rygel twirls his utensil so that the tines point down. "Feel that air." He stabs a piece of roasted delpa. "The Leviathans are going to go at it again."

Noranti sets her plate down and sits at the table. "I think you're wrong."

"Smell the humidity, woman." Rygel takes a deep breath, nostril slits flaring. "You'll know I'm right when we start spinning."

"No, not you. I was speaking to the Captain." Noranti turns to D'Argo, lays her hand on his arm and whispers, "Those two are a pair, but they're not as one. They have to come together into some kind of unity."

D'Argo looks at her and she blinks a few times encouragingly. He turns back to his plate.

Chiana adds, "I think she's right."

He lays down his spoon. "I don't think it's any of our business."

"D'Argo, have you seen the way they smile at each other, but when the other one isn't looking the smile is gone?"

"No, I haven't."

"Yes, you have."

He closes his eyes and counts to five. " 'Never stand on the ground between a mated pair'."

"There's something going on between them and they need to work it out."

"Yes, exactly, *they* need to work it out."

"But they aren't."

D'Argo spoons his scattered delpas into a neat pile.

"How long until they blow up in all of our faces?"

Noranti murmurs in a sing-song, as if she just happens to be humming as she eats. "Ob-jec-tive me-di-a-tion."

Rygel raises his chair from the table a few denches. "You people must be screamingly bored to take such an interest in those two hapless farhbots." He motors away, depositing his empty plate and utensil next to the warmer. He says as he leaves, "I'll be on Command."

"Yeah." Chiana pauses with her cup in her hand. "We should all be playing tadek with Stark instead. He's not farhbot in the least."

***

Aeryn opens the cell door to her room and without slowing, walks over to the bed and falls down on it. John stays in the doorway, leaning against the frame. His voice is quiet. "You know I'm right."

She exhales sharply, a warning to him not to push.

He comes over to her and kneels down by the edge of the bed. He sets one of her boots on his leg and pulls the knot out of the laces.

She lifts her head, gives him a blank look, then lets her head fall back down with another sigh.

He peels off the sock and brushes it against the sole of her foot. He kneads her long slim foot until the red and white imprints of the boot have disappeared into pink.

Her breathing is deep, belly rising and falling in active counterpoint to her almost sleeping stillness. He pulls off her other boot and sock, and rubs that foot while he watches her.

She takes a deep breath to speak. "Quit staring at me."

"I'm not staring. I'm looking at you."

She reaches a hand out to him, and he stretches out next to her, his boots hanging off the bed. He lies on his side, head propped up. She opens her eyes, and presses her lips together.

"I was talking to D'Argo, you know what he told me?"

She bends her arm and tucks it under her head for a pillow.

"It's been ten weekens since we left Katratzi, so the baby is about ten weekens along." He takes her other hand, separates her index finger and holds the very tip of it. "And he's about the size of this last joint of yours here."

She smiles at him. "She."

He kisses her fingertip. "Okay, she."

She rolls over on top of him, pushing him onto his back and curling her leg around his. "Did he tell you anything more?"

"Yeah." He lifts his head toward her and she kisses him, her hand sneaking under his shirt. She breaks off the kiss and licks her lips.

"And?" She sits up, straddling him and plucking at his shirt. He sits up to untuck it and pull it off, then scoots so his back is against the wall. She sits astride him again and lets him pull her own shirt off.

He traces a finger between her breasts, barely confined in her standard issue bra. "Her heart is beating." He skitters his fingertips across their heavy curves, too tender recently to be much more than looked at. "She has brain waves."

Her long fingers gracefully work the buckle of his belt, and her smile is open and genuine. "She's thinking."

"Yeah." He kisses her, fingers diving into the soft coolness of her hair. She grinds against him leisurely. She kisses her way to his ear and whispers, "And?"

He whispers back, "And eyes and ears, and knees and elbows, and little buds that will turn into toes."

"And hands?" She traces the outline of his ear with her tongue, her thumb caressing the other in tandem.

"Something like hands, yeah. Pudgy little flat ones." His breath hitches as she slips his earlobe between her lips.

Aeryn rocks back, grinding against him before she rises up on her knees and moves away from the bed. Her smile beams at him as she unfastens her belt and leathers. "I think she'll have *your* hands." She slides the pants down her legs and turns to toss them behind her.

John thinks to himself, his hands, my hands, what difference is there at this point? I'm the dad now, or I will be if I can keep her safe, keep them safe.

He leans against the wall behind the bed and watches her strip down to nothing. Her skin is flushed despite the chill in the room, and the gleam in her eyes almost erases the image in his head of her crumpled on the floor like a broken doll.

Aeryn kneels on the bed and undoes the laces of his boots, helps his shuck off his own leathers and shorts. He pulls her up onto his lap again, enclosing her in his arms. He can't think of anything to say outside the boundaries of what she doesn't want to talk about. He kisses her instead, starting with her cheek and traveling delicately across her cheekbone. Her eyelid flutters as he ruffles her eyelashes with the tip of his tongue.

Her lashes are thick and straight, black and slightly bitter on his tongue, and he makes his way over to the other set to confirm the taste. She is still, barely breathing, waiting. He kisses her as if he doesn't want to disturb her makeup, even though she no longer uses that strange fairy sheen she wore when she was chasing him. When he stopped running from her, she stopped trying to look harmless and cute. She's not made for either of those. You don't put ribbons on a gun

He lays a trail of kisses down to her mouth, and breaks her spell of stillness. Her wicked smile returns and she takes him in hand. He reaches between them to cup her sex, and she shivers from the touch, already open and wet against his hand.

"Oh." He's about as hard as he gets, and when she strokes she isn't squeezing hard enough to do more than tease, but he's got her clit in a handy way and he wants to watch her come. He can feel how close she is, almost there before he touched her.

She rocks against his hand, eyes closed, mouth open,. Her areolas are darker than they were, and so hard that the skin around them is pebbled and her breasts are have taken on a different shape. He braces the small of her back and kisses his way down her chest.

She grinds against his hand and he shifts her clit from his fingers to the heel of his hand, slipping his middle fingers into her. He lays a soft tongue against one of her nipples, and she sucks in a breath and then freezes. He closes his mouth on the nipple and suckles, his hand trapped between them escalating the pace. Her muscles bear down and she comes against the palm of his hand, her fingers digging into his shoulders and her shout filling the room.

He slows, eases off, but keeps stroking her and dipping into her wetness as she shudders down the back slope of orgasm.

Aeryn leans back suddenly, pulling her nipple from his mouth with a wet 'snick' sound. Her eyes are wide open. She scrambles from his lap and off the bed.

He transfers her wetness from his hand to his straining erection, eager for whatever position she's just thought of.

She grabs her pants and shirt from the floor, and dresses faster than a fireman.

"Aeryn?"

She shoves her feet into her unlaced boots and calls over her shoulder as she leaves, "I forgot something--I'll be right back!"

For a moment, John sits there on the bed, with only his own slick hand on his dick for company, "Be right…what…what the hell?" He jumps off the bed and chases after her, bare feet slapping on the chilly floor. "Aeryn!"

He'd run but he's not certain where she headed to. Instead he stalks up the corridor in the general direction that his dick is pointing, bobbing and weaving like a dowsing rod. He bellows her name again. "Aeryn!"

He hears it's her by the rhythm of the boot steps running toward him up the hallway. She turns the corner and he sees a piece of machinery in her hand. "Aeryn, what's going on?"

She keeps running past him, pausing only long enough to smirk and slap his bare ass.

"Aeryn!"

By the time he gets back to her quarters, she's naked again, and she leads him to the bed as if nothing had happened. He balks.

"What was all that about?" He points to the piece of machinery, nestled between the broken down insteps of her paired boots.

She has the decency to blush and stop pulling him toward the bed. "I thought it was broken again. It took me three days to fix and I was going to re-install it when I…fainted. I had it in my hand. Once I remembered it, I had to check if I'd smashed it."

"Must be important."

"Inertial dampener for the left steering armature of my Prowler."

"Right."

She takes hold of his flagging cock, as if it were one of the metal levers she uses to pilot her ship. "It gives a certain solid feel to the control." Her hand is graceful and her grip pleasingly firm. "It smoothes the responsiveness, eliminates any jerking movement that could translate to the trajectory of the ship."

"I see." Pleasure chases away the chill on his skin and he lets her pull him to the bed. He joins her there, tracing his fingers up from thigh to hip to circle around her breast. "And it couldn't wait until we were both finished?"

"Were you planning on being quick?" She rolls him onto his back and guides him into her.

"Not if I can help it." He takes her hips in hand and pushes in until he's buried as deep as he can go. For a moment he watches her, watches her body respond to him, reassuring himself that she's right here, right now, and she isn't haring off for a little while at least.

She starts fucking him slowly, bracing her hands on his belly in a way that pushes her breasts together. Her newly darkened areolas tighten up on their own, and she flexes around his cock. The skin of her chest is flushed and her eyes are locked on his, soft and dark. She leans back, bracing with her hands on his thighs and starts fucking him in earnest.

She's close again, already, and he wonders if the ability to go from zero to orgasm and back again in sixty seconds is a side-effect of Sebacean pregnancy. He wishes there was some kind of inertial dampener between the two of them.

The wormhole starts to cycle open, another tick in the nine hour cycle that it's been going through since they arrived in the Leviathans' neighborhood. The distraction is enough to keep him from coming despite the pleasure of riding out Aeryn's orgasm. Not because the wormhole itself is anything special, but because it's rising and setting around them.

They're spinning.

Again.

The wormhole escalates, the feeling of water up his nose stings and they're spinning again and they're fucking again and god--is she coming again, or is it still?

The wormhole slows to a stop over on his right as Aeryn squeezes around him so tightly that he pops right out of her, but she rides him anyway, gasping and grinding until the wormhole bursts and John bursts and Aeryn shudders to a stop.

She falls to the bed next to him, covered in sweat and as out of breath as he is. Presumably Moya and her lover have also flown apart to savor the afterglow. Funny, the timing on that.

He rolls toward Aeryn, reaches a shaky hand to brush wet hair from the side of her face. "Babe," he pants, "what...the frell...was *that*?"

***

She rolls onto her back and catches her breath.

He stares at the ceiling with her. His questions are flat and rhetorical, the elucidation of the patently obvious. "This isn't just heat delirium, is it."

"No."

"You're hooked into Moya, somehow. Aren't you."

She takes a deep breath and lets it out. "I think so."

"Right." He sniffs, coughs and clears his throat. "Anything else you want to come clean on? Nah, forget I asked. I'm sure it's on the list of things you don't want to talk about."

She stiffens but doesn't move away. "I knew you would overreact."

"Don't protect me from reality, Aeryn." He stands and grabs his pants off the floor. "If there's something wrong, tell me."

She watches him take a corner of her bed sheet and clean himself off, then slip on his leathers. She feels spent and a little hollow, and the question she hasn't been able to steel herself enough to ask for weekens comes out of her mouth as easy as breath. "Are you happy?"

He fastens his leathers slowly, the same careful look to his hands and face as he wore when he was building his tactical nuke. This is why she hadn't been able to ask, because she already knew.

His hands fall to his sides. "I love you."

She knows this too. And she has absolutely no idea why these two pieces do not fit together anymore. She sits up and pulls the blanket around herself.

He sits next to her on the bed. "You keep fighting me, hiding things from me."

"This thing with Moya is a distraction, that's all."

"A distraction."

She tucks her feet under the blanket. "I've always been able to sense how Moya is, a general feeling of her status."

He turns to her. "Always?"

She nods. "I know what it feels like to be a Pilot, and that sense has never left me. This is just more so, because of what Moya is going through. I knew you would worry, but there's nothing to worry about. When the mating is over, Moya will return to normal and my sense of her won't be so intense."

He slips his arm around her and pulls her in a loose embrace. "I just want to take care of you. The both of you."

She remembers something Stark said about hostages, but she curtails that line of thought, reaching behind to rub a sore spot on her lower back.

"Here?" He slides his hand down to the spot.

"Yes." She relaxes across his lap, laying her cheek on his warm leather thigh. He works the muscles on both sides of her spine with the heel of his hand, easing the soreness. She concedes, "I think I strained it when I hit the ground."

"I'm sure fucking my brains out afterward didn't help, either."

She laughs.

"Not so bad, is it? Letting me take care of you?"

She hums noncommittally. "I like this much better than your nagging."

"Then I won't even mention food. Even though your stomach just growled so hard I felt it against my leg."

She raises her head and sits up. "I wasn't hungry until now."

"And now you're starving."

She stands up and drops the blanket to look for her clothes. "Yes, now I'm starving."

***

Noranti is pounding something recalcitrant in her largest mortar and pestle, and she nods a greeting as Aeryn opens a cooling unit and starts stacking food onto a plate. "Try the delpas. They went over very well this evening."

Aeryn sets her plate on the counter Noranti's working at. "What are you making?"

Noranti tips the mortar over, sending coarse powder through a screen and into a bowl. "Almond flour."

Aeryn doesn't know what that is, but it smells good, warm and nutty. Noranti taps the screen and then dumps the leftover bits back into the mortar.

"You like making food?"

Noranti rubs her hands together and gets a good grip on the pestle. "Cooking us a wonderful way to think out loud, mixing, separating, transforming. Aren't you going to warm that up?"

Aeryn looks down at her plate and chews her food down to the point where she can talk out of one side of her mouth. "Why?"

Noranti clicks her tongue and takes her plate, hiding it in the warmer. "Because it will taste better that way."

"I don't mind how it tastes."

Noranti crushes the last bits and sends it through the screen. She pours the powder into a jar and secures the lid tightly.

"You're not going to use that for anything?"

"Later. It's for the wedding dessert."

Aeryn smiles with a furrowed brow. "That's not for days yet."

Noranti jabs a cheerful finger at her. "You see?"

Aeryn doesn't. She wonders if her plate is sufficiently warm yet. She taps her fork and eyes the warmer while Noranti wipes the mortar and pestle clean, takes some long thin dried black things and bashes them between the counter and the handle of her knife, and then shoves them into a different jar of something white and granular. Finally, she retrieves the plate and slides it in front of Aeryn.

"Those delpas, I just cut them up, sprinkled them with tarl root and salt and then roasted them. Some things are easy."

Aeryn divides her attention between the plate and the cook.

"The dessert I'm making has a lot of ingredients, none of which I'm very familiar with yet or likely to see again after we go through our stores of them. The techniques are fascinating, though, and I know what it should taste like when it's done. Olivia made me a video…" Noranti stops, looks left, right, behind the mortar, above the flame hood over the warmer. She shakes her head. "Somewhere. I think Rygel borrowed it again. Point being, some things are not done easily."

Aeryn nods. "I once had to pursue a mark for three solid monens before I had the opportunity to complete my assignment."

Noranti's extra eye shifts to blue and blinks. "So you know what I'm talking about."

"Not particularly." Aeryn looks down at her empty plate.

Noranti takes it, fills it, and slips it into the warmer again.

"You have children..." Aeryn leans her elbows onto the counter and can't seem to find the words for the rest.

Noranti tilts her head encouragingly.

"Did you carry them...inside?"

"Oh!" Noranti pats Aeryn's arm as her weird eye turns green. "I've not only birthed my own, I've helped others. You have questions."

Aeryn nods.

"Ask me." Noranti looks to the side, searching her memory. "When I was with the Tarkin freedom fighters, I assisted at two Sebacean births. I certainly don't know everything, but with D'Argo, I think we have most things covered."

"There are some things I'd rather not ask D'Argo."

Noranti flutters her lashes in a smile, but the smile fades as she takes in the serious expression on Aeryn's face. "What is wrong?"

Aeryn pauses for emphasis before she speaks. "I have not shat in five solar days."

Noranti nods her head once, goes to the cooling unit, and picks out a few pieces of vegetable. On her way to the counter, she retrieves Aeryn's plate from the warmer. "Eat. I will explain."

Aeryn picks up the fork but waits for Noranti to continue.

She begins to clean and cut the vegetables as she talks. "Your body is not only the place where you live, it is also sustaining a very fast growing child. You must learn to share."

Aeryn is dubious about this line of explanation. "Even dren?"

"Oh yes. Your body won't get rid of anything until you've squeezed every last possible nutrient out of it."

"Wonderful."

"Yes, amazing really, the changes it makes before you can even see it." Noranti piles the cut veggies onto Aeryn's plate. "I'm sure you're also passing water more frequently."

"I'm thinking of using my long-range flight catheter."

"I...I wouldn't advise that."

"I'm joking." Aeryn stabs a veggie piece with her fork. "Mostly."

***

John brushes his hand across the corridor ribs as he makes his way to Command, feeling them warm as he gains distance from Aeryn's room. He thinks about the Pilot DNA still buried in each of her cells, responding to Moya like a guitar string vibrating in sympathy.

He remembers when it happened, the person he was then. Wishing he had a tricorder to verify if something was safe to drink, thinking he could Captain Kirk his way out of any situation.

He remembers the way he pushed her and pushed her until she finally lifted her shirt and showed him what was wrong. How he wasn't going to help her until she opened up a little bit first. He had this idea of showing her the give and take of friendship by teaching her to say 'please'.

He used to be such a defenseless idiot, it's a wonder he stayed alive long enough to turn into a dangerous idiot.

He wonders what she'd tell him now if he pushed hard enough. It's a purely theoretical line of thought. They're past the please and thank-yous, past the games and the ultimatums. The last time he pushed her with his heart and his hands, she left.

There's so much between the beginning and now, it doesn't feel quite real. She died for him, and then he died on her, and if it isn't fate, then it's fait accompli. And now they have a chance to turn the ashes over into the ground between them and grow something.

He worries about how the Pilot DNA may affect the baby, aside from distracting its mother from eating unless she's freshly frelled. 'As long as it's healthy' is the cliché, but he feels the truth behind it--don't ask for too much, lest you overlook something important. Claws and exoskeleton pale beside the very real odds against the child growing up whole and happy.

The less the baby looks like her father, the better off she'll be.

It occurs to him suddenly that maybe whatever Namtar did to Aeryn is what allowed the baby to be conceived in the first place. He drops his hand from the wall, and compulsively checks his shave as he walks. All those women he kissed on the Royal Planet and only two of them were sweet, the first like molasses and the second like honey. Hard and sweet like rock candy.

He thinks about the vow he's going to make. He's already offered his body, his mind, and his soul in turn for her, getting each of them back but all the worse for wear. At this point what's a promise?

He needs to talk to D'Argo about the ceremony. Make sure there's no gratuitous branding.

When he comes through the doorway into Command, the screen flickers in the corner of his vision. He stops just inside the door to take a better look, but it's just stars and Leviathans.

"Hey. You missed the wormhole." Chiana moves from a control console to one of the wall benches, and 1812 follows like the well-trained pet he's become. "How's Aeryn?"

"She's fine. She's having a late dinner." John calls up his instrumentation array and looks at the behaviour of the wormhole over time.

This one opens every nine hours, and the Leviathans pop in and out like commuters using a subway system. He looks at the communications log, comparing the times Pilot's taken it offline (diverting power for mating maneuvers) to the wormhole cycle. They only jive at a few points--the Leviathans don't give the wormhole much attention unless they're actually using it. The gaps in the communications log, however, might as well be the notches on John's bedpost the last few days, confirming what he'd already guessed and what she'd confessed. He has questions that the data won't answer. "You hear anything from Pilot lately? I need to talk to him about some things."

"Not yet. But the ships flew apart half an arn ago, so he should be checking in any microt."

"Chiana." Pilot appears on the clamshell.

"Speak of the devil."

"Commander."

"How's it going, Pilot?" Chiana wanders over to the clamshell.

"Very well, Chiana."

"Can I ask you a question, P-"

"I have wonderful news--Moya has conceived!"

Chiana whoops so loudly John thinks he may have pierced an eardrum. She skips over to him and grabs his hands. "Did you hear that? We're going to have a baby!" She throws her head back and turns him in a circle as she laughs and he finds himself laughing with her.

"Yeah," he chuckles. "I heard."

"Babies!" she shouts, shaking his arms. He scoops her up and twirls her 'round. When her feet touch the ground she bounces away toward the clamshell again. "So how does this work, when will we know that the baby's going to be okay in Tormented Space?"

"The offspring is nearly a solar day old, and all preliminary analysis shows it to be a healthy conception. It has been transferred to the gestation chamber and the DRDs report that the attachment is secure. Now that the offspring is being nurtured by Moya, growth rate has increased."

John asks, "Will Moya need to divert power like she did last time?"

Pilot tilts his head in silent consultation. "Unlikely. Moya says that this child feels different from Talyn. She does not have a normal pregnancy to compare Talyn to, but she believes that this offspring will be less taxing on her systems."

"That's good news, Pilot."

"We believe that within a weeken the offspring will achieve sufficient synaptic complexity that any difficulty with Tormented Space will be apparent." Pilot's voice softens. "The male has decided to accompany Moya until she is certain that the offspring will be viable."

Chiana slugs John on the arm and nods her head. "Good guy."

Pilot searches for words. "He is intrigued by her. By the fact that she has a Pilot and passengers, and still retains...her sovereignty...and by the fact that she desires offspring enough to risk the painful effects that this region of space has on her. He is honored by her choosing him." Pilot hesitates, then adds, "He is also enamored with her color."

Chiana gives John a look, lips pressed in a smile and eyebrows raised.

"Sweet nothings." John laughs. "He's a big blue Cyrano de Leviathan."

"I must attend to Moya." Pilot raises a claw to sever the clamshell connection. "Ship environmentals will return to normal within five arns."

"Come on." She grabs John's wrist and pulls him toward the door. "Ibiz, heel." The DRD chirps and zips along behind her left foot. "Let's go tell D'Argo!"