The command level was, as it had been previously, completely devoid of life. Aeryn kept her pulse rifle at the ready while she made her way to the command center by more or less edging along the walls. She felt the distinct need to be careful, but still found it hard to relate to what had happened before in the landing bay. Her discussion with John about whether she should go back to the command level or not still rang in her ears. That male was so frelling stubborn sometimes. She ground her teeth together and pushed on. For over an arn now, there had been no further signs of any hostile acts against anybody. Two more of the prisoners had joined them after having had no luck what so ever in finding a viable ship. They had no idea what had happened to the other four, or so they claimed.

Aeryn made it to the command center without incident and there she ran a full scan of the entire ship. It would take about half an arn to complete the scan, but then she would know everything about any potential life forms on board. She had activated the bio-scanner, which was used in the case of possible intruders. It would reveal any life form from the size of the smallest bug to the biggest budong. There was fairly little that would slip through the cracks. And especially not something that was able to devour or simply eliminate a crew of over fifty thousand men, women and children.

She adjusted the settings a little and then settled down to wait for the outcome. For the time being, they had decided on com silence for no other reason than that whatever was causing this might be listening in.

While she waited, the one thing she tried to avoid thinking of B the children B popped back into her mind. Thousands of them had disappeared together with the rest of this outfit and it made her wonder what monster was prowling this ship. It had to be a monster if it was killing children. For a few moments she sat perfectly still, her eyes on nothing in particular, until the memories of her Peacekeeper past rose in her like foul water from a stagnant well. How many children had she killed during her less enlightened days? How many infants had been crushed under the heels of her division when they went on a raid? She closed her eyes against the painful memories, against her own stupidity, and submerged herself in a state of denial.

A sudden beep made her jump. The scan had completed. With a sigh, she rose from her seat and walked over to the console to take a look at the readouts. What she saw made her disregard the necessity of com silence. "John?" she said, tapping her com.

"What happened to com silence?" he replied instantly.

"It makes no sense any more," she said. "It is imperative that we find a way off this ship right now," she added.

"And how do you propose we do that?" came the reply immediately.

"John, listen to me," she said, not in the mood to explain her present ideas on their dilemma to him. There were other more pressing matters she needed him to understand. "According to the bio-scanner, this ship is one big living organism." It came as no surprise to her that he remained silent after that revelation. "Looks like I was right."

"Looks like it," he agreed reluctantly. "Aeryn ..."

"Stay where you are. I have an idea on how we can get out of here," she said and switched the com off again. She had ideas alright, but she was not going to share them with him over an open channel. She grabbed her rifle, reset the scanner to run again, and then froze. There was that feeling again of not being alone. Her pulse rate increased, her breathing became faster. There was definitely something in the command center with her and she wasn't too sure she wanted to know what it was. The feeling changed into sound and if Aeryn hadn't been afraid before, she was now. The sound was a soft, uncertain pat-pat across the polished floor of the command center and it sounded like nothing she had ever heard before. She pressed her lips together and slowly turned to face this menace, but was stunned by what she saw on the floor, slowly making its way toward her. It was an infant, uncoordinated, clumsy, dressed in the insignia jumper of the Peacekeepers. Its head was down and she couldn't see its face. But it was definitely moving toward her, slowly and unsteadily.

She inhaled sharply and struggled to keep her emotions at bay. This was not what she had expected to see. Was this an indication of what she had left behind when she had left the Peacekeepers? The infant gurgled, a strangely alien and somehow frightening sound and Aeryn took an unwilling step back, her eyes never leaving the half-bald head of the infant. "Frell," she hissed through clenched teeth.

The sound of her voice caused the infant to raise its far too big head and look at her with empty eye sockets. It made another gurgling sound and raised a chubby hand toward her, exposing needle sharp teeth that had no business in the mouth of a child. Its skin was far too pale and was stretched taut over its skull. If Aeryn had been anybody else, she would probably have screamed. But screaming was not something Aeryn did easily and this child crawling toward her was not something that would incite her to do so now, despite the slow terror rising in her at the sight and the implications of this infant. What was foremost on her mind was what John would make of this infant. And she had a far too clear idea of how he would respond. This child could be the bastard offspring of Scorpius.

For the briefest of moments, she closed her eyes, willing it away, but it was still there when she opened her eyes again. She raised her rifle, aiming it at the creature, and could not help but sneer at the irony of the change she had gone through. As a true Peacekeeper, she would not have hesitated to blow such a creature away. But now, after learning that her upbringing had been wrong, she could hardly stand to aim her rifle at this thing and it was not even real. And all the while, the gut-wrenching monster child kept crawling toward her. The thought of it reaching her, of its chubby little hands touching her, solidified her belief that this was something the ship was throwing at her and she hesitated no longer, but blew the apparition away. And it worked too, because the being disappeared and left no trace behind. "Frell," she muttered again.

The console behind her beeped again and she turned around to inspect the readouts, which had changed radically from the last scan. It came as no real surprise, but it did cause her to thump her com back on. "John, get up here."

"Are you nuts?" he countered immediately. "I'm not going out there."

"There's nothing to fear right now," she replied. "If you hurry, you should be fine."

"Hurry? You just told me this ship is one big living organism. How can you even think ... come to think of it, honey, you better get your caboose back here instead. I don't like you running around out there all alone."

"I'm not running around," she said and sighed. "Just get up here. Now," she repeated and switched the com off again. She knew he would come if he couldn't get in touch with her.

Aeryn briefly glanced over her shoulder, assuring herself that this creature had not returned. When she found the command center empty behind her, she could not help but sigh with relief.


It took John less time to turn up than she had thought and that only proved to her that he was a lot more scared of this ship than she was. For her it was probably the fact that a ship like this had been her home since birth. John had no such reference and had only experienced bad things on a command carrier. No wonder he didn't like it. The doors opened and he more or less skittered inside.

"Are you out of your mind?" he snapped. "Aeryn, this is not a joke, okay? We're going back to the marauder and we're gonna stay there until we come up with a better idea. Running around on this ghost ship is not a good idea."

She gave him a look that made him shut up. "This ship is only dangerous in waves," she stated.

"In waves? What the hell does that mean?" he countered and propped both hands on his hips.

Aeryn eyed him. He always reverted back to his English expressions when he was scared or upset. "I ran the scan again. This time it came out totally normal. Which in other words means that whatever is happening to this ship is happening in waves."

He stared at her for a microt, then glanced around him as if searching for something. His eyes caught on the burned mark on the floor. "What's that?"

"I shot an apparition," she replied indifferently and returned her attention to the scanner. "It turned up right after the first scan had completed. When I shot it, it disappeared."

"Apparition?" he asked unsteadily. "What ... do you mean, an apparition?"

Aeryn glanced over her shoulder and wondered why he was making such a big thing out of this. She had faced ghosts before and they didn't scare her much. Apparently though, they scared him. "You said it yourself. This is a ghost ship. We are likely to run into a few ghosts along the way."

"Ghosts?" he asked. "What are you talking about? Is this ship alive or not?"

"Not right now," Aeryn replied and hit the repeat for the scan. "If we can figure out in what intervals it comes alive, we will be able to move around freely."

John grabbed her by the shoulders and turned her toward him. "Intervals? Aeryn, baby, you're not making any sense. This place is dangerous. You saw what happened to that guy, that prisoner, didn't you? Or what happened when the lights went out? It wasn't just me who saw that, was it?"

"No," she agreed. "But that doesn't matter now, John. I think I know how we can get off this ship."


The corridor was long and empty and well lit. John had just turned the corner and just stood there and stared. That had to be one of the longest corridors he had ever seen in his life. It seemed to go on forever.


Aeryn's voice broke his reverie and he glanced at her with a half-smile on his lips. "Mirage?" he asked, not entirely sure what she meant.

"That corridor. It's no more than about a hundred hentas long," she said. "It looks like it's over a metra. That would mean it would go straight through the entire ship."

He frowned. "That means it doesn't?" he asked. This whole thing was so damned confusing. The ship changed around them, things turned up they had no reference for and disappeared again before they had a chance to establish an identity for them. Fortunately, Aeryn knew command carriers like the back of her hand and was not fooled by the constant changes. They were, as she said, mirages.

"Of course not. To have a corridor run the length of the ship would make it vulnerable," she explained and grabbed his arm. "We're not going that way," she added and pulled him with her back to the corridor they had left, which crossed the seemingly endless one.

"What does it want?" John asked as they started walking again.

"It?" she asked and glanced at him. "I don't give a frell what it wants," she added, realizing what he meant. "All I want is off this ship so we can go back to Moya and be done with this part of space. I've had just about enough of Tormented Space."

"So, we're looking for explosives?" he asked and she nodded. "And ... what do we need them for?"

Aeryn came to an abrupt stop and looked at him as if he'd asked her just about the dumbest question he could come up with. Truth be told, he was quite certain that he should have been able to figure it out on his own, but he just couldn't think straight with all that was going on around him. "To blow the bay doors, of course," she said irritably. "What the frell did you think we were going to do? Blow ourselves up?"

"You know, snapping at me doesn't make this any easier," he admonished, put off by her obvious need to bicker. "And just for your information, no, I didn't think we were going to blow ourselves up. I just don't see how blowing the bay doors is going to help us."

Aeryn sighed with irritation. "We are going to blow the bay doors, because then we will be pulled out into space. Once outside, I'm hoping that whatever influence this frelled-up ship has on the marauder will go away and let us escape."

He stared at her for a heartbeat and then nodded. "Oh, I see. That's ... uh ... quite obvious," he replied.

"Yes, I would have thought so," she agreed sarcastically. "Let's move. I don't know how much longer this ship will remain dormant. The 'alive'-moments are closer and closer together."

John arched an eyebrow and followed her when she started walking again. "Sorta like contractions," he mumbled and lengthened his stride to keep up with her.


The armory would be heaven for someone as gun-happy as the PKs seemed to be. The room was stacked with any kind of imaginable firepower and John felt a little taken aback by the sight. The smell of chakan oil hung heavy in the air, but it did not seem to bother Aeryn one bit. She strode into the room, looked around and headed straight for the back where the explosives were obviously stored.

"While we're here, we might as well stock up on fuel for the weapons and newer models of what we've got," Aeryn suggested. "There's a trolley over there. Start loading."

John inhaled deeply and nodded to himself. That was a good idea. He just didn't feel like parting with Winona. Almost instinctively, his hand slipped onto the butt of the pulse pistol, which he had been lucky enough to retrieve from Grayza's quarters after Aeryn had freed him.

At that point, he noted that Aeryn had ceased what she was doing and was staring at him with slight concern. "What the frell are you doing?" she asked.

He looked back at her with a frown. "What do you mean?" he asked.

She waved toward his right hand resting on the butt of his gun. "Do you have a cramp?"

Her question made no sense to him until he glance down himself and realized that his hand was resting on nothing. He didn't even have his holster on. "What the ..." he began, but trailed off. "Didn't I ...?" he started again, but didn't finish. No, of course he hadn't had his gun a moment ago. He hadn't had it since Grayza's goons had disarmed him when they had caught him. He closed his eyes and tried to remember if he had retrieved it or not, but then saw the insanity in that the gun would have been lying on the edge of the bath where he thought he had retrieved it from. Grazya wasn't that stupid. She wouldn't have left a gun within his reach.

"What?" Aeryn asked.

In response he shook his head. No sense in worrying her about his mental instability. "Nothing. I'm ... it was just old habit. I miss my gun," he said.

"Then get another," she replied, eyed him for a moment longer and then returned to what she had been doing before.

"Yeah," he said and looked around for the hand weapons. "I will." This wasn't good. The ship was obviously coming to life again and John couldn't help thinking about what might be in store for them. It wouldn't be good. That much he was certain of.


Aeryn sent another glance back at John while he searched for the hand weapons. Something here was definitely influencing him and she had realize the instance that he'd claimed to miss his weapon that he had thought he had it. On top of that, he had started muttering to himself and that was never a good sign. But right now she did not have time to wonder about the state of his mind. They needed to find the explosives and take them back to the marauder.


The com on her chest crackled with static, but Braca's voice carried easily. "What?" she snapped and loaded another canister of cronite shavings onto the second trolley she had found.

"Where ever you are, you better find a place to hide. This thing is coming alive again," came the reply.

Aeryn froze, then turned and glanced back to the front of the armory. "John?" she called. She heard the squeaking of the trolley and then nothing. "John?" she repeated.

"Forget him. Get back here," Braca suggested helpfully.

"Shut the frell up, Braca. Another word out of you and I'll shoot you when I see you again," she snarled and thumbed the com off.

The static in the com was odd. They were not that far apart. Reception should have been crystal clear. "John, frell it. Answer me," she snapped.

"What?" He turned up at the end of the row of pulse rifles and gave her a frown.

"You let me fall, Aeryn."

A cold shiver ran down her spine at the sound of that voice. She found herself suddenly unable to move as she glanced sideways toward the source of that voice.

"You let me die. I should have shot you when I had the chance. Ungrateful infant. "

Aeryn would never have thought she could respond this violently to anything, but seeing her mother standing there, all mangled and bloody from the fall she had taken on Valdon, made her gasp and take a sharp sideways step.

"Aeryn? What's wrong?" she heard John asking, but she couldn't acknowledge him.

"You let me die. After what I did for you. I killed your father so you could live. And this is how you repay me? "

Aeryn could do nothing other than close her eyes tightly and repeat silently to herself that this wasn't real. And yet she heard the coarse voice of a dead woman grating in her ears, felt the rush of air when the apparition closed in on her. This was all too real and made no sense at all.

"Aeryn?" She heard John closing in on her, heard the concern in his voice, and knew for sure that he couldn't see Xhalax.

Aeryn felt the cold steel of a pulse pistol's muzzle press against her temple and wondered what would happen when Xhalax pulled the trigger on her. Would she die even though this wasn't real?

Just then, John grabbed her shoulders and shook her once. "Aeryn, what's wrong?" he demanded.

Somehow his presence dispelled the ghost threatening her and when Aeryn opened her eyes, Xhalax was gone and the concern in John's eyes was all too evident. She looked from him to the spot where she had last seen her mother and then back to him again and she could only imagine what she looked like to John right now.

"What happened?" he asked quietly.

For a moment she considered telling him, but he would not be able to understand this. He hadn't seen her response the first time she had thought Xhalax had died, at the hands of Crais. That had been the other version of him. And she had not told him of her encounter on Valdon. As it were, she had not told him about Valdon at all.

For a moment, she closed her eyes again and focused on breathing. Then she licked her now dry lips and looked up at him. "Nothing," she said. "We can talk about it later. We have work to do."

He eyed her and she knew he wouldn't back down, but she hoped she'd made it clear to him that now wasn't the time to discuss such things.

"Aeryn," he tried, but she shrugged out of his grip and returned to loading more canisters of cronite shavings onto the trolley.

"We are pressed for time, John. Did you get what you need?" she asked without looking at him.

"Yeah, I got us a whole arsenal of weapons," he replied and she could hear it in his voice that he was hurt by her rejection. She most definitely would have to do something about this once they were back on Moya.


John eyed Aeryn for a moment. What he had seen in her eyes had been total and utter fear and that was not something he was used to in connection with her. He had never really seen her display fear except for that one time when she'd nearly been taken over by the living death. But that fear had been fear of death. This had been different. It was like she was looking at the ghost of something from her past and couldn't handle it.

Her refusal to talk about it made him worry, but he figured she didn't want to talk about it here because they didn't have much time. Instead of pursuing the subject any further, he grabbed a hold of the trolley. "You done?" he asked.

"Almost," she replied and loaded another box onto the trolley, which was beginning to sag a little under the weight. "Let's get the frell out of here," she added.

"Gotcha," he replied and started pulling the heavy trolley along toward the front of the armory.

Aeryn followed him and kept glancing behind her like she was afraid of being followed. He noticed it, but decided to keep his mouth shut about it for now. She was not in the mood to talk about what she had seen back there and he knew what could happen when he pushed her too much.


They managed to get the whole load back to the marauder without incident. At least she believed that there had been nothing in their path that John couldn't handle. He had hesitated a bit at one point, his eyes locked on something she couldn't see, but he had shook it off and continued without so much as a word about it and Aeryn had begun to wonder how long he'd had the visions of Scorpius before that neural chip had really messed him up. He was obviously good at hiding things that distressed him.

They loaded the weapons into the marauder much to Braca's dislike, but neither was interested in listening to his complaints. Aeryn watched John from the corner of her eyes while he strapped on two holsters and then went through the array of pulse pistols he'd brought. He weighed each gun in his hand, tested its aim and the level of fuel before he settled on two to her identical weapons and holstered them.

For a microt, all she did was stand there. Then she picked up a second gun as well, strapped on another holster, and slid the gun home. John had taken a liking to having two guns and she assumed they made him feel safer. He was good at using both at once now and she silently prided herself on teaching him how to use two guns simultaneously.

He looked up, caught her looking at him, and smiled at her. "Now what?" he asked.

"We place the cronite shavings at the bay doors," she replied and turned to leave the marauder again.

"No, Aeryn, not yet," he said and grabbed her arm, stopping her approach toward the exit.

Somehow she knew what came next. His voice took on a special lilt when he wanted her to confess to something. She glanced at his hand on her arm, then up at his face. "What?"

"What did you see in the armory?" he asked, his expression one of slight concern.

"Not now, John," she replied and pulled out of his grip. "There will be time for that later."

"And what if there isn't?" he said.

"Then you'll have to be dead without knowing," she countered and left the marauder.


"Swell," John mumbled and shook his head. Damn that woman. Sometimes he just felt like shaking her. Why couldn't she just tell him?

"What's going on?" Braca stepped into the rear compartment of the marauder and glanced briefly toward the exit before focusing on John.

"Nothing," John grumbled and settled one hand on the butt of the right gun. Sure, they were all in this together right now, but he didn't trust Braca further than he could throw the little twit and he would be damend if he would let his guard down around him.

"What do we need all these weapons for?" Braca asked and eyed the selection of firearms.

"To blow nosy Peacekeepers to Hezmana," John countered and gave him a sharp glare. "Unless you wanna help us move the cronite, you better get out of my way," he added when Braca stepped into his path toward the exit.

"Crichton! You have to listen to me. Blowing the bay doors is not going to help us. We are dead no matter what we do." Braca made no move to get out of his way and on top of that he looked deadly serious.

John eyed him for a moment. "Thanks for the pep-talk, Pinochio, but I'm not gonna sit around and wait for whatever it is to come and get us."

Braca shook his head, disgust in his eyes. "You never could understand it when the odds were against you, could you?" he asked. "You never stood a chance from the very beginning."

For some reason that John couldn't define, this made him grin. Without hesitation, he reached out and patted Braca's cheek like he would that of an unruly child. "It's amazing what you can do when you don't know your limitations, isn't it?" he asked and followed Aeryn out into the bay.

He heard Braca mutter something under his breath and he knew he'd stepped on his toes. But John couldn't help struggling against the tide. He had always done it and figured he probably always would. If someone told him it was impossible, he wanted to prove it could be done. Whether it was out of spite or just because he felt he had to prove himself to someone was something he had never really considered.