D'Argo prowled tier after tier in search of the elusive Human. In part, it reminded him a bit about the time when he had been hit by the hyper-rage just in the beginning after John had joined them. John was good at hiding. Even he, with his sensitive nose, had not been able to track him back then. And since the girls had cleaned John up, he was no longer giving off that stench right from Hezmana and would be that much harder to track.

"Frell," he muttered and stepped into another maintenance bay. He hunkered down for a moment to get a good view of what might be hiding under the work tables, but the area was abandoned, just like all the other bays he had checked out so far.

He rose again and sniffed the air. There was a faint trace of John in this bay, though. He had been here and not so long ago either. D'Argo looked around in search of something, anything, that might indicate where John had gone. And at first he saw nothing. But then he spotted the grating that had been pulled away from one of the air duct access points. "Got you," he whispered and slowly approached the opening.

He squatted down and peered into the dark duct beyond and saw nothing but darkness. "John?" he called.

There was no reply.

"John, I know you're in there," he tried, although he knew no such thing. The scent of the Human was faint, which meant he wasn't here any more. D'Argo growled under his breath. "Frell it," he muttered. "Aeryn? Any sign of him?" he called and rose again.

"Not so far, " came the reply. "Where are you? "

"Going through the maintenance bays. He was here. I can still smell him. But he's gone now," D'Argo countered and sighed. "He's frelling good at hiding, isn't he?"

This was followed by a stretch of silence that seemed to last forever. Then he heard Aeryn sigh. "Yes, he is. He has demonstrated that ability before, " she agreed. "Stop twitching, Ayla, " she added.

D'Argo propped his hands on his hips. If one good thing had come of all this dren then it was that Aeryn had started to spend much more time with her daughter and in D'Argo's opinion, it was about frelling time too. "Well, we'll just keep searching for him. He can't stay gone forever," he said and left the bay again to check the next one.


Aeryn walked slowly along the corridors, preceded by three DRDs that examined every corner, crevice and duct they came across, no matter how big or small it might be. She had briefly considered telling them not to bother about the smaller spaces, but had then decided not to bother. They were quick to scan their surroundings, so it didn't mean much time loss.

Ayla remained on her hip, her thumb still wedged securely in her mouth, and Aeryn wondered what she got out of sucking on her thumb.

"Mommy," Ayla said quietly around her thumb.

Aeryn, who kept her eyes on their surroundings, acknowledged that with a muttered 'huh'.

"Do you love John?"

Aeryn came to an immediate stop, taken aback by how apparently attentive this little girl of hers was. She looked down at her and considered her reply carefully before responding. Then she nodded. "Yes, I do," she said quietly.

Ayla nodded thoughtfully, then frowned a little. "Like you love me?" she asked.

Questions like that were notoriously hard to answer. Aeryn again took a moment to reply before she nodded. "Yes, in a sense," she agreed. "Only, John isn't of my blood like you are."

The girl's expression was full of questions and Aeryn had a feeling where this was heading. If she was right, it would spare her the trouble of having to decide on the right time to tell Ayla who John really was. This little one was very sharp.

"Uhm ..." Ayla said, pursed her lips and wrinkled her brow in a very John like way. But then she obviously decided to leave it be for now, because her brow smoothed out and she stuck her thumb back into her mouth. Aeryn shifted her weight on her hip a little and continued along the corridor without another word.


The silence in this wet hell was unbroken except for the constant drip drip drip of moisture. He had been sitting there in the niche forever now, hiding from what might hurt him. Slowly, he raised his head. The panic had subsided again and with it, the red haze of terror in his mind. He thought more clearly now, but was still uncertain of the reality of it all.

He shifted lightly and winced at the ache in his body. Everything hurt; his foot especially. He shifted his leg a little and tried to breathe calmly, to keep the pain and thereby the panic at bay. But it was hard work, harder than he had ever thought anything could be.


He heard her voice, not so far away. At first, it raised the hairs on the back of his neck, made him go cold with fear, but then he remembered. It wasn't the burnt bitch, it was Aeryn; Aeryn and that little girl.

He blinked. The little girl? Who was that child? She hadn't been there before, had she? This child that had pulled him out of hell with a sweet voice and a racy song. "Ayla," he whispered. "Ayla."

He had run from a child in terror, this child that had saved him.

"John, where are you?"

He closed his eyes and leaned his aching head back against the wall. The fear was there, constantly, painfully, suffocatingly. It took hold of him when he heard voices, when he saw others, when he as much as sensed them. Something in him, far beneath the surface, wanted to call out to her, to reach for her hand when she reached for him, but the majority of him still fought the notion of being touched, of touching, of having anyone near enough to risk either.


"I'm here," he whispered, then made a face in agony. Slowly, painfully, he unfolded himself and pushed forward, toward the conduit and the narrow space beneath.

Something flapped by on the other side. He stopped moving and stared out into the semi darkness of this area. He had heard something flying by out there. With one hand on top of the conduit, he leaned forward and squinted into the gloom. Then a whole swarm of whatever it was flapped by, right in front of his face. With a gasp of sheer terror, he yanked back, slamming his back into the wall. The sound was deafening, terrifying in its ability to bring up images that belonged in nightmares.

The panic erupted like a slumbering volcano. He pulled his knees up to his chest, pressed his brow down against them and wrapped both arms over his head. No way was he going out there. Evil things lurked in the shadows, ready to attack if he made a wrong move.


Aeryn stopped at the edge of the water that indicated the start of the neural cluster. There were trill bats down here; loads of them; and the water was deep. She eyed the still dark surface for a few microts, then set Ayla down. "Stay here," she said. "The water in there is very deep."

Ayla nodded once and hunkered down on the floor, her thumb still lodged securely in her mouth. Aeryn hoped against hope that the girl would for once do as she told her, while she scanned what she could see of the neural cluster. Then she waded into the water. It would tinge her skin purple, but she could live with the discoloring if she found John, and something told her that he was hiding here somewhere.

She waded into the water until it reached her hip, then stopped and looked around. To John, this area would be very dark; she however saw better in the dark. And she heard better too. Below all the dripping moisture and odd sounds the trill bats made, she could hear him breathing. It was fast, superficial, forcibly quiet; but not quiet enough for her to overhear it.

The only problem was that the acoustics in the neural cluster B despite being very good at carrying sound B weren't very good at giving directions away. In other words, she could hear him, but she couldn't hear where the sound came from. Chewing thoughtfully on her lower lip, she glanced around in the gloom. "John?" she called, careful to keep her voice even, calm and not too loud. "Do you know who I am?" It was perhaps a stupid question, but it felt right to ask it.

"Aeryn," she heard him whisper.

"That's right. It's Aeryn," she agreed and kept glancing around. "I know you're scared right now, but there's no need to be. I'm alone and I want to help you." She listened for a reply, but there was none. A slight shift moved the cold water around her and she briefly glanced down at the murky surface. "John?" she tried again. There was still no reply. Thoughtfully, she wet her lips with the tip of her tongue and kept glancing around. He had to be here somewhere.

"John, listen to me," she tried. If he spoke, she might be better able to locate him. "I need you to tell me what scared you. Can you tell me that?"

"No touching," came the whispered reply and at that very microt, she knew exactly where he was.

Her eyes focused on the ledge and the conduits and she nearly smiled. "Nobody is going to touch you," she promised and started toward the ledge. "I promise you. Nobody will touch you if you don't want them to. You're safe here. You're among friends."

In the gloom, she caught sight of him hiding behind the conduits. She made as much noise as she could in her approach to let him know she was coming. At the same time she wondered if Ayla had touched him and if so, why he had responded so harshly to it. Ayla had touched him before without it resulting in such extreme behavior.

He raised his head slowly and stared at her over the top of the conduit, his pupils strongly dilated. She smiled, hoping to somehow reassure him and came to a stop. "You can't stay in there. It's cold and wet here. And dark. You don't want to be alone in the dark, do you?" It was probably unfair to use his present fear against him, but she had no idea how else to coax him out of his hiding place.

For a long moment, he just stared at her. Then his gaze shifted upwards as he leaned forward slowly. "Are they gone?" he asked quietly, scanning for something above her head.

Aeryn frowned. "Who?" she asked, wondering if he was having a setback of sorts. Maybe he was seeing things that weren't there.

"Those ... flying things," he whispered, his voice suddenly hoarse. He pulled back, ducking his head, and the movement obviously caused him pain.

"They're trill bats, John. They live down here. And they won't hurt you. They're not interested in you," she replied, knowing instantly what he meant.

He blinked and focused on her again. "Trill bats?" he asked, seemingly only now remembering what they were. Then he leaned forward again, placing a hand on top of the conduit. "Are you alone?"

"Yes, John. I am," she agreed, then thought better of it. They couldn't get past Ayla without him seeing her. "Except for Ayla. She's waiting over there," she added and jabbed a thumb over one shoulder.

He glanced in that direction and sighed. Apparently it wasn't Ayla as such who had scared him.

With a bit of an effort, he squeezed back out of the confines behind the conduit and slipped into the icy water. He glanced around and stuffed his hands into his armpits to keep them warm.

Aeryn waded with him back to the corridor where Ayla was waiting. She looked up at John with big eyes full of sadness. "I'm sorry," she whispered around her thumb.

John barely managed a smile, but he did try for her. He had nothing to say, though.

Aeryn picked Ayla up and positioned her on her hip again and together the three of them made their slow and for John painful way back to his quarters.


Aeryn was adamant about him losing what clothes he had on. It did the wounds no good that he clung to wearing his soaked t shirt and sweats. As touching him was out of the question at this point in time, all she could do was talk to him. And eventually he listened. She assumed that it was mostly because he was cold and miserable more than anything she had said specifically.

Slowly and with considerable effort, he pulled the t shirt off and let it drop on the floor. The discoloring the water in the neural cluster had imparted on his skin reached halfway up his chest and stained his arms to the elbows. The sight was a bit comical and Aeryn struggled to keep a smile at bay.

But all need to smile disappeared when she realized that the bandage on his stomach was also soaked. And somehow she didn't believe that guano littered water was very good for his health in general. "Frell," she muttered. "John, we need to change the bandage. Will you let me do that?"

He looked down himself while his breathing became a little erratic. The fear was overwhelming him again. Obviously the mere thought at being touched upgraded him to panic level again. Then suddenly, his head came up and he stared at her with something near terror.

Aeryn raised both hands and backed up a step. "It's all right. I'm not going to touch you if you don't want it," she assured him, hoping she could cut through the panic she saw in his eyes.

And then he stumbled backwards until he collided with the wall, his eyes wide, his breathing shallow and rapid. What little color he'd had drained away while he pressed into the wall, clawing at the surface with both hands as if trying to dig his way through. He shook his head without taking his eyes off Aeryn and kept whispering no over and over.

Aeryn frowned. Somehow she didn't believe that she was causing this panic attack. There was something behind her. With a creeping feeling, she slowly turned her head, then started to turn around, but stopped dead when an icy breeze passed over her. "What the frell?" she snapped in surprise. It had come from the doorway and was heading for John.

She turned back to face him and what she saw made the hairs on the back of her neck stand on edge. Halfway between them at this point was the faint outline of someone else, someone she had seen on that comand carrier. Aeryn's eyes widened, but her training would always make the decisions for her, and before she could even consciously think about what she should do, she had slipped in front of John, covering him with her body. "No frelling way," she snarled at the apparition.

It appeared to be the ghost of Grayza and the state of her was horrifying to say the least. She was half burnt, half rotting, one part of her upper lip missing, which gave her a constant snarl. In one hand she held a whip, while she held the other out toward them. Her one good eye was fixed on John.

Aeryn just had time to think that she had no idea how to fight something incorporeal when the burnt horror passed right through her and right into John. At that point, he started screaming.

A little scared herself, Aeryn swirled around and grabbed his shoulders, giving frell in the no touch policy they had established, and pressed him back against the wall while he thrashed against her, banging his head back against the wall several times. To Aeryn's horror, his eyes glazed over, became white again.

"D'ARGO!" she roared. "I NEED HELP!" This was beyond her ability to handle alone.

Moments later, D'Argo came racing in, followed closely by Chiana. Ayla stood at the doorway, nearly clinging to the frame, her eyes wide with fear.

"Get Ayla out of here," Aeryn snapped at Chiana. "NOW!"

Chiana picked the little girl up and rushed away again while D'Argo stepped in to give Aeryn a hand. But at that moment, John stopped moving. His eyes, now horribly white, stared straight ahead, and his whole body had gone rigid.

Aeryn released him and stepped back, not daring to take her eyes off him. "He's turned back," she whispered. "How the frell could this happen?"

"I don't know. But I think securing him would be a good idea," D'Argo countered.

Aeryn nodded. Together they grabbed the ridged human and maneuvered him onto the bed. Aeryn found some rope which they used to tie him down with, and their decision to secure him had come not a moment too soon. Aeryn was just putting the finishing touches on a knot over his right upper arm when he suddenly turned his head and tried to bite her hand.

She jerked back, glanced quickly at D'Argo to make sure he was done, and then backed up a step. "Frell," she muttered. The taste of defeat was a bitter one indeed and she felt close to tears.

D'Argo straightened and stepped back too, having secured John's feet, and just stared at the sorry state their friend was in again. "This is not good," he said quietly. "What the frell happened?" he then asked and turned his attention to Aeryn.

"I don't know," she lied. She knew alright, but found it impossible to recount, seeing as she wasn't entirely sure she hadn't seen a mirage of John's fear rather than an actual ghost.

"Aeryn ..." D'Argo started, but she cut him off by raising a hand.

"No, D'Argo, we're not making any decisions about his state of ... whatever the frell you want to call this ... until we've exhausted all options. Right now, I want to know how the frell this could happen," she said darkly, then glanced up at the ceiling. "Pilot, where did we come out of starburst before?" she called.

For a moment, there was no reply.

"Pilot?" she called again, worried now.

"I was just about to inform you, Aeryn," Pilot finally replied. "In our search for a commerce planet, we have unfortunately come too close to the command carrier again. It seems that Moya's scanners have a blind spot. We did not detect it until moments ago. It's less than a hundred metras from us at this point."

"FRELL!" Aeryn yelled. She felt like kicking something. "How the frell could that happen? Where did you get those coordinates from?"

"I'm afraid that's my fault, " Zitta replied instead of Pilot. "I knew of a commerce planet in this area and advised Pilot to go here. I did not remember that this was the location of the carrier. "

"Get us away from here, Pilot. As fast as possible," Aeryn replied, ignoring Zitta's remark for now. She would have words with her about her lousy plotting later.

"Moya needs to re-energize first, " Pilot replied. He sounded a little puzzled.

Aeryn frowned up at the ceiling. "Is something wrong?" she asked.

"There has been a remarkable drop in her power reserves. I am uncertain of what is causing it. She will have to recuperate for a while, " Pilot replied. "I am sorry, Aeryn. "

"It's not your fault," she countered almost as on instinct. "How long is a while?"

"At least one solarday, " Pilot replied with regret in his voice.

"Oh frell," Aeryn sighed and glanced over at the zombie John had become again. "Can we leave at all?"

"Not at the moment. Once Moya feels strong enough, I will let you know, " Pilot replied.

"Thank you," Aeryn muttered. The air simply went out of her after that. She dropped down on the floor and just stared at John with tears forming in her eyes. "I'm sorry," she mouthed.

"It's not your fault, Aeryn," D'Argo tried.

"Somehow, I think it is," she disagreed. "I wanted so badly to save him."

"You were B are saving him, Aeryn. This was unforseen," D'Argo said and hunkered down next to her, putting a hand on her shoulder.

"This is a major setback, D'Argo. What if he doesn't survive this time?" she nearly whispered and aggressively wiped a tear away that tore lose and trickled down her cheek.

"He will. If there's one thing you should know about John at this point, it's that he's resilient. He'll survive simply to prove you wrong," he said with a slight smile and a sideways glance at John.

Aeryn pressed her lips together into a thin line. "I hope you're right," she whispered. "For the love of Cholok, I hope you're right."


"This can't be happening. Oh God, this isn't happening." He kept muttering those words, kept resisting the idea, but it made no difference. The heat around him was blistering, the restraints around his aching wrists and ankles were hot enough to be searing, and nothing he did would change this hideous fate he had been bestowed.

She had been a shadow at first, a ghost from a nightmare, but now she was all too real. She was rotting, her flesh peeling from her bones, and still she was up and about. In her right hand she held the whip, brandishing it with expertise he believed she'd had in life as well. Her left hand was free and he gagged helplessly when she touched his face with it. The stench of rotting meat and the sight of the puss oozing wounds where her ring and little finger had been made it so much harder to dispel the terror of having been sucked back into hell.

"No, get away from me," he croaked helplessly, twisting his face away from her touch.

She grabbed his chin in a vice like grip and forced him to look up at her peeling face as she straddled his bare chest. He heard the ripping of her skin when she strained it too much and globs of puss hit his skin, ice cold in comparison to the flames licking up around the dais he was suspended on.

"You once found me beautiful," she croaked and it mostly sounded like she had dirt in her throat.

Terror did odd things to him, he realized. While being so scared that he could barely remember his own name, he still couldn't help the wisecrack from slipping over his lips. "Yeah, but you got real ugly," he countered, his voice shivering so bad, it sounded mostly like it had just hit puberty.

What was left of her lips rose into a hateful snarl and she pushed back and brandished the whip, hitting his chest. It left painful streaks which burned when the sweat covering his body seeped into the wounds.

Suddenly, she lowered her head and looked down at him. Her left hand slipped down on the sweat slick skin of his lower stomach and almost fondly caressed him, each stroke going lower.

"NO!" He tore at the chains holding him, terrified by what he thought she was going to do. "No, please, not that. Anything but that," he begged. He was beyond morbid humor and pride at this point. She was going to rape him and the mere thought made him feel physically ill.

She raised her remaining fingers to her chest and ran them over the remarkably clear spot between her rotting breasts. "You will never be free again. You will pleasure me for the rest of eternity," she croaked and jabbed her foul smelling fingers into his face.

He tired to turn away, but she abandoned the whip and grabbed his chin with her right hand while she held her index and middle finger under his nose. Despite the stench of rot that wafted off her in waves, the hepple oil was still potent. But it had changed character. He was not consumed with lust for her the moment she forced him to inhale her scent; but his body still betrayed him. He felt himself hardening as she grabbed his erection with her right hand and leered at him with unconstrained glee.

When she sank down on him, she made a squishing sound and he no longer pretended to be in control of anything. It was such a disgusting sensation, he turned his head and threw up all over his right arm. And then he started screaming, when she started moving, rising and falling, what remained of her liquefying, rotting abdominal muscles getting a decent grip on him.

Some small part of him kept insisting that this was all in his head, that his body was not being touched, but it was very hard to convince himself of it while the stench of his own sick mingled with the rotting zombie raping him for all he was worth, and his mind simply began to shut down. He couldn't handle this any more. It was just too much.