John returned his attention to the walking corpses outside and swallowed hard against the rising bile in his throat. What the hell was going on here? This was like every zombie movie he had ever seen or heard of and it made his skin crawl to think of what would happen if these things got inside.

He closed his eyes and tried to calm himself. There was something in the atmosphere of this place, the marauder or the carrier itself, that was getting under his skin big time. He felt the need to give up, to throw in the towel and call it quits and it took everything he had to fight that feeling. Determined to hold on for now, he chomped down on his lower lip and opened his eyes again.

Then he realized the sewer-sisters were staring at him. "What?" he asked with a slight frown, but neither of them replied. They just stood there and stared at him, both of them, their arms around each other.

For a moment, he couldn't determine what to do with that, but then he shrugged and turned his attention to Zitta instead. She smiled almost wistfully at him. "They're creeping me out," he said quietly, nodding toward the sewer-sisters.

Zitta's smile became a little cheeky. "More so than our 'departed' friends outside?" she asked quietly and stepped closer to him.

He made a face. "No, not that much," he agreed and grinned sheepishly. "So, what did a nice plant like you do to end up in a horrible place like this?" he asked.

"You have met Delvians before?" she asked and he nodded in response. "Well, we may seem very... spiritual. But..." She paused while a frown furrowed her brow. "I do not much care for Sebaceans, I must admit," she added, her emerald eyes on something past John's left shoulder, "but that Peacekeeper does not look so good."

John glanced over his shoulder at Braca, who stood with his back to the wall, his arms crossed over his chest, and a very empty look in his eyes. And John had to agree with Zitta. He didn't look too good. The thought that this could be a disease crossed his mind, but then he pushed it away. There was no way any disease would leave the afflicted in such a state. At least no disease he'd ever heard of. "You think it's some kind of space-plague or something?" he asked and returned his attention to Zitta.

Zitta's gaze shifted back to meet his and she smiled thoughtfully. "I have never heard of such an affliction," she said and shook her head. "In fact, I do not believe such an affliction exists."

"Sounds a little far-fetched, doesn't it?" he agreed. "So, you think Aeryn's right?" he asked on. "That this ... carrier has been to the Chaos regions and ... brought something back with it?"

Zitta sighed. "I do not know. It is impossible to say. And I do not wish to attempt to share unity with this ... vessel to find out," she replied.

"I wouldn't ask you to either," he said and sighed. "Is it just me or is the air stuffy in here?"

Zitta frowned again. "It feels alright to me," she said. "Perhaps you are just too anxious?"

"Abso-fudging-lutely," he agreed with a smirk, then glanced back at Pink. He couldn't get himself to think of the big, red-skinned guy as anything other than Pink. "So, P ... uh ... I mean Kl'tah," he said a little louder. "What's your take on this? Why do you think this ship has suddenly gone all 'Army-of-Darkness'?"

Kl'tah stared at him for a moment. "I do not know," he said and shook his head slowly. "It is a mystery."

"Yeah," John agreed and arched an eyebrow. "Deadites, eh?" he added with one more look at Kl'tah. "I just don't think a shotgun, a chainsaw and an old bucket of a car is gonna do us any good here."

The others eyed him with frowns and confusion, but he didn't elaborate. Somehow he thought that the genius of this particular Raimi-movie was going to be lost on these aliens.


Aeryn reached the loading bay, realized the ramp was open and sneered half-heartedly. "Frell," she whispered and pulled her pulse pistol. Marauders were fairly big and had lots of crannies and nooks where someone could hide. It was better to be safe than sorry, as John said, so she readied her weapon and proceeded with caution. The closer she got to the switch which would close the ramp, the more clearly she could hear the sounds from outside. Shuffling feet, the soft rustling of fabric moving, the sound of fingernails scraping over metal. But that in itself was not what made her feel like running for cover. Above all those sounds, there was another one, one she could only identify as the inarticulate moans and groans of mentally inefficient creatures.

She had nearly reached the switch when the first of the walking dead turned up at the foot of the ramp. It was a male, an officer of some rank she couldn't identify, mainly because his insignia was covered by something dark. Apart from that, his jaw and right cheek were missing and yet he managed to produce inarticulate sounds that made her shudder inside. He raised his head listlessly, hazy eyes with the vaguest hint of a pupil gazing up at her. Aeryn reached the switch and stopped, morbid fascination preventing her from pushing it just yet. But then the creature at the foot of the ramp howled like a thing right out of Hezmana and Aeryn hammered a fist against the locking mechanism while the creature down there raised both arms, one hand missing several fingers, while the ramp started to rise. In the process, the edge of the ramp scrapped against the creature, which made no move to avoid having its front scraped off.

Aeryn aimed at the incomplete face and swallowed. Then she fired, blowing the top of its head off and driving it back so its arms wouldn't get caught in the ramp and maybe prevent them from taking off in the end because of an atmosphere leak.

For a long microt, she could not find the strength to move. This whole situation was just so frelling obscene and unnatural that it made her head spin. Was this what wormholes were good for?

A sudden sound caught her attention and she spun around, ready to blow whatever might be sneaking up on her away.

"Ho-wow," John exclaimed, raising both hands and taking a quick step backward. "Don't shoot. I come in peace," he then added and grinned nervously.

"What the frell are you doing, sneaking up on me like that?" she demanded and exhaled explosively. "Frell, John. I almost shot you," she added.

"Good thing you didn't. I want to live to see another day," he replied and smiled more honestly at her. "I was just wondering where you were. The others are really creeping me out, Aeryn. I think there's something wrong with Braca."

"Nothing's wrong with Braca," she disagreed, flipped the safety back on her gun and returned it to its holster. "That little drenhead just doesn't know how to cope without his regiment to back him up. It makes him nervous to be around aliens. He's afraid of contamination."

"After working for Scorpy and Commandant Cleavage, I'd think he would be over that phase in his life," John countered, then glanced at the loading ramp. "What happened here? Why did you open the ramp?"

Aeryn sighed. "I didn't. It was open when I came in. I just closed it," she said, but then suddenly froze. "Frell," she added in a nearly hoarse whisper and ripped her weapon out again.

"What?" John asked, suddenly worried.

"Why the frell would it be open in the first place? I didn't open it when I landed. Someone else must have opened it since," she whispered while she scanned the miniature loading bay for movement.

John's expression instantly turned from worried to scared. "You think one of them might be in here?" he whispered back and glanced around nervously.

"Could be," she replied, still whispering. "There's a switch by the door. Turn on the overhead lights," she added and nodded toward the doorway.

John glanced sideways, nodded once and ran his palm over the device. The overhead lights flashed on, briefly blinding both of them. Aeryn's eyes adjusted faster and she quickly glanced around the bay. It wasn't that big and there were no crates anything could hide behind. The door to the bay had been lock when she had arrived, which meant that if anything was in here, it was invisible.

"Do you see anything?" she asked when she noted that John was glancing around too.

"Nope," he replied quietly. "You?"

"Not a thing," she said, let out a heartfelt sigh and holstered her weapon once more. She returned her attention to the locking mechanism and sealed the ramp from the inside, thereby making it impossible to activate it from the outside. "Let's get back to the others," she added and turned around to face John.

He stood by the door, a lost look in his eyes, and seemingly hadn't heard her.

"John?" She started toward him, but stopped after only two steps, a frown furrowing her brow. "John?" she tried again, but got no response.


Everything was a howling inferno. The air was blistering hot, forcing sweat to soak him in mere microts. There was fire around him, licking up walls, rippling over all surfaces like a living thing. And amidst it all, there he was, locked down and tied up, unable to move, helpless to defend himself against whatever evil had overtaken him.

And then he saw her. She stood at the foot of this nightmare contraption holding him in place and she wore mere scraps of what he'd seen her in before; her uniform torn so much, it was nearly nonexistent. Her skin was torn and badly burned in places, blood and puss leaking from pulsing wounds. One half of her face had been blackened to a crisp, the hair burned away almost completely. And still she smiled.

That smile, he realized, would haunt him for the rest of eternity only because it was so utterly evil. Her eyes were covered with a milky surface and in her good hand, she held what look suspiciously like a whip.

He gave an almost violent jerk and suddenly found himself back in the loading bay of the marauder with Aeryn standing in front of him, a worried look in her eyes. He stared at her, took a microt to compose himself, and then glanced around. What the hell had that vision been about? It had been so real, he had felt the heat on his skin.

"John?" Aeryn asked and she sounded very much like she had tried to communicate with him before.

"Yeah?" he asked back and glanced around once more. He was overworked, over-exhausted, over-something. There could be no other explanation for it.

"What the frell just happened?" she asked and grabbed his arm.

He frowned at her. "What do you mean?" He immediately decided not to tell her that he was obviously losing his mind.

"You totally zoned out on me. What happened?" she asked.

He sighed and shrugged. Aeryn had enough on her plate right now without him going bonkers on her as well. "I don't know. I'm just tired, I guess. I haven't slept much since this little picnic started," he lied.

Aeryn eyed him suspiciously for a moment, then nodded once. "I can understand that," she said. "Perhaps you should rest a little."

"Nah, I'm fine," he countered immediately. "I guess I'm just going to zone out a little now and again," he added and grinned.

"Don't do it too much, John. We have a precarious situation going on here," she advised him and urged him out the door. She closed and locked it behind them.


Once back in the cockpit, Aeryn told the others what she had seen and heard and everybody looked worried. John stood apart from the others, his eyes on Aeryn, his mind on that vision. That had been totally surreal. But he was already beginning to believe his own lies on this one. He was probably just tired. It had been a tough ride ever since he'd been grabbed on that commerce planet.

Then his gaze shifted to Braca and a frown creased his brow. Braca sure as hell didn't look good. The man looked like he was about to come down with malaria or something. He was pale, sweaty and his eyes were wide and very glossy. At the same time he was just standing there, staring ahead of himself in an almost comatose manner. John frowned and tilted his head a little to the right while he stared at the other man.

"Braca?" he asked, ignoring the din of the others talking as he made his way across the room to where Braca was leaning against the wall. "Hey, Braca," he tried again.

The other man blinked and started as if he'd been awoken from a nightmare, then focused on John. "What?" he asked, his tone annoyed but with a hint of fear in it.

"You okay?" John asked. He wasn't as such worried about Braca, but more about the other man's current state of health.

"As I said previously," Braca said, his tone decidedly annoyed, "I am fine." With that, he pushed away from the wall and left the cockpit.

John arched an eyebrow and turned around to face the others. "Sorry for caring," he muttered and shrugged.

The others eyed him for a moment, then they started talking again. John glanced around at them, trying to determine if any of them might be having these symptoms too and realized that Pink seemed to be zoning as well. He also figured that the sewer-sisters had whatever it was happening to them as well, because they were now mobile again and whispering amongst themselves.

"Just forget about him, John," Aeryn advised.

John nodded and turned his attention to the bay outside. "Hey guys," he said. "Take a look outside."

Everybody turned their attention to the outside space and stopped whatever they were doing. The bay outside was strikingly empty. Aeryn stepped up beside him, a frown furrowing her brow. "Where did they all go?" she asked nobody in particular.

"I don't think they 'went' anywhere," John said. "I think the ship's just gone back into hibernation or whatever the hell it's doing when it's not spitting images from Romero's Night Of The Living Dead at us."

Aeryn gave him a frown for his trouble. "Will you ever begin to make sense to me?" she asked. "I think you're right. Now is our time to get moving," she added.

"You can't think about going out there now," Sturla said, her eyes wide. "I mean, after seeing those things out there, I don't know if I can," she added self-consciously and glanced around at the others.

It was at times like these that John was overwhelmed by how surreal this situation was when people said stuff that made sense amidst the insanity that was their life right now. He closed his eyes, well aware that Aeryn would have something say about that.

"Do you have a better suggestion?" she asked and made a sweeping gesture toward the bay outside. "You came up with this frelling idea after all. We need to get that crane up and running so we can move the marauder into place. Now is as good as it gets."

"I think Sturla has a point," Veeton intervened.

Telk snorted, the first obvious intervention from him. "Cowards," he sniffed and turned toward Aeryn. "I will help any way I can," he said.

Aeryn nodded. "Good. Do any of you know how to fly a marauder?" she asked. They all glanced at each other, but no one made any move to confirm this. Aeryn scratched her left earlobe. "Fine," she grumbled, then turned her attention to John. "You stay in here. You know how to fly this vessel if need be," she added. "I will grab Braca on my way out and we will set this up. If the ... sombies return, you close the hatch and don't let anyone in."

"Zombies," John replied, stressing the zed in the mix and then shook his head. "There is no way I'm leaving you at the mercy of those ... deadites," he continued and glanced briefly at Kl'tah. "If they turn up, you better get your caboose back in here or I'll come out and get you. You got that?"

Aeryn stared at him for a microt, glanced out at the bay and then nodded. "Fine," she relented. "Just make sure you're ready to close the hatch."

"I will be," John agreed. "Once you're back inside."

She made a face, clapped him on the shoulder and left the cockpit. John didn't like this development one bit, but realized that there wasn't much else for them to do.


Aeryn found Braca rather quickly. He stood in the tight corridor leading away from the cockpit, his back against the wall, his arms crossed over his chest, a distant look in his decidedly feverish eyes. She frowned, but decided not to ask him what was wrong. He had repeatedly let her know that he didn't want to share whatever it was.

"Braca," she said.

He jerked, glanced around for a microt as if searching for some unseen enemy, then focused on her. "What?" he asked. His voice was hoarse and his color was decidedly waxen at this point.

"We need to align the crane," she said. "We're the only ones who know how."

"I am not a tech," he countered.

Aeryn pulled her pulse pistol and pressed the muzzle against his jaw. "I don't frelling care what you are, Captain," she spat. "This is your frelling ship. And now is the time to deal with necessities before this ship comes alive again."

Braca snorted, but did as she said. He turned and headed toward the entry hatch without looking back. Aeryn followed him and together they hurried across the landing bay toward the control panel for the crane. Aeryn activated it while Braca kept an eye on the bay, his back to her.

Within microts, she had the crane positioned above the marauder and activated the force field that should be able to move the marauder. Pressing her lips together into a thin line, she made a wish and hit the button. The air above the marauder shimmered right before the vessel rose from the floor. "Yes," she whispered and used the control column to move the marauder around and into position. Once it was facing the bay doors nose first, she set it down again and switched the crane off.

"That's it," she said and turned toward Braca, who was still facing the bay with his back to her. "Let's get back to the marauder and figure out how to trigger the weapons manually." But Braca didn't respond. He just stood there. "Are you listening to me, Braca?" she demanded and still he didn't move. "Braca, frell it. Are you listening to me?" she insisted angrily.

At that, his head jerked a little. Then he slowly turned around to face her as his head tilted bonelessly to one side. His eyes were white with only the vaguest hint of a pupil and his skin had gone deadly pale.

Aeryn stared at him for a long, breathless microt. "What the frell is wrong with you?" she whispered even though she knew what had happened to him. Whatever the frell this ship was doing to people, it had gotten to Braca as well. And the transformation had been rather rapid. "Frell," she breathed and started edging sideways away from him. He moved his head, his dead eyes following her, and she figured that if she wanted to get away from him, now was the time.

Without giving it any further thought, she broke into a run and sprinted back toward the hatch without looking back. She didn't need to look back to know that he was following her. The lumbering steps following her were enough of an indication. She grabbed the upper step leading up to the hatch and hauled herself up the steps, her heart pounding away in her chest. Once she was inside the hatch, she slammed a flat hand against the door mechanism and the ladder retracted while the pressure door cycled shut. But not before she saw him turning up down there. He reached up for the door and got his fingers stuck between the closing halves. The result was that his fingers were cut off and fell to the floor just inside the door.

Aeryn shied back, her eyes on the wiggling digits. "Frell," she muttered and shook her head, refusing to acknowledge what she had just witnessed. "This is too frelling much. We have to get out of here. Right now," she whispered to herself.


John stood by the viewport and watched Aeryn and Braca heading toward the crane controls. Braca was moving very stiffly, even for a PK, and John didn't really like where this was heading. The crane was activated, lifted the marauder and started to shift and turn it. Just when he lost sight of Aeryn and Braca, John noticed something odd about the PK captain. Even at this distance, he could see the paleness of the other man's skin and it was rather disconcerting for oh-so-many reasons.

Fire erupted around him as he pushed away from the console he'd been leaning against and turned around. And suddenly he was no longer in the marauder, but back to that table, strapped down, helpless.

He yelped in surprise and fear when the half burned face of Commandant Mele-on Grayza suddenly appeared over him in very close proximity, a leer on what remained of her lips. She was so close that he could smell the burnt flesh and no amount of squirming got him away from her.

"What is your pain or pleasure?" she rasped and ran the tip of her whip almost gently over his cheek. "I fulfill your wildest fantasies and your darkest despairs. Name your game and we shall play it forever. "

"Get away from me," he rasped, barely able to speak.

"Aw John, play along. This will be your reality from now on," Grayza rasped, threw her head back and laughed. Then she hit him with the whip, the hot material cutting deeply into his right shoulder.

He snapped back to reality with a jerk and a whimper and it took him a good few microts before he got his rapidly beating heart under control. What the hell were those visions about?

He straightened up to warn Aeryn about what he had seen, but froze when a stabbing pain shot through his right shoulder. With a frown, he glanced down at it and it took him a moment to realize what he was looking at. There was a tear in his t-shirt and the wound underneath was bleeding. He glanced at the console and noted that some of the blood had dripped onto it and for the longest heartbeat ever, his mind refused to make the connection.

Then it hit him like a ton of bricks. His visions had become something more, something dangerous. He prodded the skin around the wound to make sure it wasn't something he was imagining and found that it hurt like hell. He flinched, but made no sound, then glanced back at the others. None of them had obviously noticed anything wrong.

And then Aeryn came racing into the cockpit. "We have to figure a way to trigger the weapons right now," she said, a little out of breath, then focused on John. Immediately, her brow creased into a frown. "What's wrong?" she asked.

He wasn't sure what had given it away since he still had his back to the room, but she had immediately picked up on that something was wrong with him. Somewhat unsteady, he turned around to face her and saw her expression change when she caught sight of the wound on his shoulder. The others responded as well by staring at him.

Aeryn's expression was full of concern when she stepped up to him and raised a hand toward his shoulder, but stopped short a mere fraction of an inch from the wound. "What the frell happened to your shoulder?" she asked and raised her gaze to meet his.

"I've been having visions," he muttered. "At least I thought they were visions. What the hell is going on here?"

"Sturla," Aeryn said and glanced back at the Yenen over one shoulder. "Help me trigger the weapons. The rest of you ..." she continued, but trailed off, her eyes on something beyond the small cluster of ex-prisoners.

In one smooth motion, she swirled around fully and ripped out her pulse pistol, aiming it into the group. The others dispersed immediately, giving her a clear shot of Kl'tah, who stood behind the others, his skin now a sickly pale pink, his eyes glazed over. Aeryn didn't hesitate even a microt. She pulled the trigger and the blast evaporated Kl'tah's face and slammed him back against the bulkhead.

John just stood and stared at the corpse until it started moving again. Something deep inside him told him that this was where he was heading. He was turning into that, somehow. With his left hand clamped around his right shoulder, he pushed past Aeryn and left the cockpit, leaving the others to deal with the newly animated corpse of Kl'tah. The mere thought that he was going to be joining these beings they had seen outside made his stomach churn. At the same time, he was reasonably calm about it. He just needed to check something before he tried to work out how to handle this situation.

He found a cleansing room and stepped up to one of the mirrors. The moment he caught sight of his own reflection, he knew how Aeryn could have known something was wrong. His skin was pale, almost transparent, his eyes wide and haunted. "Shit," he whispered. He didn't need to ask what had happened to Braca. He knew already.