Aeryn kept her pulse pistol aimed at the jerking corpse on the floor when John pushed past her and walked away. There was nothing hurried about his movements and it worried her more than she was willing to admit. But she did not have time to follow him. She was the only one armed and the corpse on the floor was moving far too much for her liking.

"Uh ... perhaps you should shoot him again?" Sturla asked nervously.

"I doubt it would do any good," Zitta inserted and made a face. "But, you can always try, of course."

Aeryn glanced from one to the other, irritation at the whole situation rearing its head. She did not have time to stick around and deal with this situation when John might need her, so she pulled both her pulse pistols, handed one to Sturla and one to Zitta, and stepped back. "Take care of this. I need to find John," she said and hurried off.

She started searching through the various rooms and compartments, and didn't consider the absence of her weapons a problem until she opened a door to a darkened room and was promptly attacked by a zombie, who had obviously been hiding inside for some time. The inarticulate groans of the thing sent a shiver up her spine as she stumbled back out into the corridor with the zombie hanging on to her. She slammed into the opposite wall while trying to keep it away from her, but that didn't prevent it from sinking rotting teeth into her left forearm.

Aeryn let out a yelp and hammered the heel of her right hand against the zombie's brow. The impact made it let go of her arm and it reeled back and slammed into the wall next to the door.

"Frell you," Aeryn snarled and leapt forward. The surprise was gone and she was in full attack mode when she hit the hissing zombie, tackled it to the ground and broke its neck. And that obviously did the trick, because it didn't move any more.

Only then did she pay attention to the already throbbing wound on her arm. Two of the zombie's teeth were stuck in the wound and she quickly pulled them out before clamping her hand around it to stop the bleeding. She would have to clean out the wound thoroughly, but first she needed to find John.

"John, where the frell are you?" she yelled, angry now.

Whatever was going on with this ship, it was becoming more and more frequent and there was no way in Hezmana that she was going to lose John to this.

She continued down the corridor, but stopped short when she heard shots from up front. "Frell," she hissed. "What now?"

"Aeryn?" someone yelled and there was definite panic in that voice.

She hesitated, uncertain about what to do first, then hissed an angry curse under her breath, turned around and ran back to the cockpit. The sight that met her when she entered was not one she had expected.

Apparently, the two Kentar-sisters had turned and one had attacked Sturla, who was on the floor and bleeding from various bite-wounds. Zitta had managed to kill one sister, but the other one was tottering around the cockpit like an overgrown infant with half its face missing, searching for something to sink her decidedly pointy teeth into.

Telk was hiding in a corner, both arms wrapped around his head, and the body of Kl'tah was still twitching. Aeryn decided to make minced meat of everything that look remotely zombie-like and jumped the blinded Kentar-sister first. She tackled the surprisingly strong creature to the ground and broke her neck, then did the same to the remains of Kl'tah.

By the time she was done, she was covered in green and purple gunk, most likely blood from the creatures she had killed. She straightened her back and moped the back of her hand over her brow before focusing on the three remaining prisoners. Zitta was helping Sturla back to her feet while Telk continued to hide in a corner.

"Telk, get up," Aeryn demanded. He slowly raised his head and glanced around, then rose to his feet. "Zitta, take care of Sturla. If anything else goes wrong, breaking the neck seems to be the only thing that puts them out of commission," she added. "I have to find John."

With that, she left the cockpit once more to search for her elusive lover.


The change between then and now was much more abrupt than it had been before. One second he was staring at his own reflection, the next he was staring into the half burned face of Grayza again. He let out a frightened sound that amounted to little more than a squawk. He struggled against the ties holding him and felt the heat rising around him.

"This isn't happening," he whispered and closed his eyes. "This is just my imagination. Just some sick trick."

"A trick?" Grayza rasped and laughed. "No, this is no trick. We're all here and we so want you to join us. We have such sights to show you. Such wonderful, wonderful things."

She exhaled a cloud of rotting air in his face and he felt his stomach revolt even though he was uncertain about whether or not he actually had a stomach in this illusion.

Her fingers closed around his lower right arm and she dug her fingernails into his skin. "Stay with us. See the sights that we show you," she rasped and drew a long, deep gash along his lower arm.

He struggled, tried his best to dispel this horror that had befallen his mind, but no matter how he tried, he couldn't make the pain and the terror go away.

"See what we have in store for you," Grayza whispered close to his ear and then straddled him. "SEE AND BE AMAZED," she screamed and wrapped her charred hands around his face, forcing his mind to open up to the horror around him.

Thousands of voices cried out in terror, begging for release from the everlasting torment of the dark regions. He saw the torture, the horror, the devastation of soul and body, and it very nearly broke his own soul. At that point he found his voice again and started screaming, for no matter how he tried, he could not lose the visions within the visions. It tore him apart on a mental level, ripping into his psyche like a hot knife through butter, and nothing he did, thought or said made any difference. He was caught in this hell-dimension from which there was no release.

Grayza laughed and ripped into his arm with her razor-sharp fingernails and the pain was so much bigger than he could fathom.

And then he was staring at his own reflection in the mirror again, his breath stuck in his throat, his eyes wide and pale. For the longest of moments, he just stared at his reflection, saw the cut on his forearm, the deep gash in his shoulder where part of the sleeve had been torn away while blood oozed from the wounds ever so slowly, and then he drew in a slow, shuddering breath. "Oh god," he whispered.


"John, answer me," Aeryn called while she searched the marauder for him. She was angry, scared and confused and wanted nothing more than to get off this ghost ship immediately. She had formed a theory in her mind that even though John was obviously influenced by the ship, he would be okay if she could get him out before he turned. "John, frell it. Answer me," she yelled, but there was no reply.

Up ahead, there was an open door and light poured out into the otherwise darkened corridor. She stopped at the door opening and took a brief look around before her gaze fixed on John's back. He stood in front of the refresher unit and stared at his decidedly pale complexion with a slight frown furrowing his brow.

Then he caught sight of her in the mirror and turned around slowly. He had new injuries, a cut on his right forearm, another bleeding wound on his left upper arm. Aeryn just stared at him for a microt while two little voices vied for control in the back of her head. One insisted she keep away from him because he was about to turn, the other insisted she go to him and help him.

John glanced down himself, his movements a little listless, his expression seemingly stuck somewhere between abysmal fear and confusion. "I had another vision," he said and raised his head again to look at her. "I'm losing it, Aeryn." His tone was calm, but his eyes were full of horror.

Aeryn forgot her aching arm and walked over to him, clamping her hands onto his upper arms. "John, you have to listen to me. You have to hold on. Don't let it pull you in. We're almost out of here. I just need to trigger the weapons array and blast those frelling doors and we're out of here. But I need you to be strong and hold on. Can you do that?"

He stared into her eyes and nodded weakly. "Yeah," he said while the look in his eyes grew distant.

"John," she snapped and shook him. "Stay with me here," she insisted.

He blinked like a sleeper just waking from a dream and nodded again, this time a little more vigorously. "I'm okay," he said and smiled helplessly.

And Aeryn knew that he was anything but. But there was precious little time left to deal with this now if she wanted to get him off this carrier before it devoured his soul.


He moved like in a dream, as if he was beginning to realize that this part of his existence was the illusion while the other, the pain and the fire, that was his real existence. He couldn't shake the feeling, couldn't convince himself that there was a dream within a dream that he could not wake up from. The feeling of reality that the other dimension gave him would not let him go and he found it harder by the moment to focus on anything than what he had seen and felt.

Aeryn hurried back to the cockpit with him in tow, but he could hardly feel her hand around his wrist any more. It was as if this world, this 'reality' was dissolving around him, while the hell-dimension was taking back what belonged to it. He felt torn, ripped down the middle, unable to function in this reality any more. The pain from his wounds was a distant memory, a far-away event that had nothing to do with him anymore.

The sharp pain of a slap brought his mind back into focus and he blinked at Aeryn. "Snap out of it," she demanded, her eyes wide and full of fear.

He raised a hand to slowly rub his distantly stinging cheek. "I'm okay," he lied, because he knew he was not. He was anything but okay. He did not want to go back to that place, to the pain and the hatred and the obscenity. He wanted to stay here, with Aeryn. But he knew he couldn't. He had to leave soon, had to go back to 'real life'.

His vision faded a little, but then snapped back to clarity when Aeryn slapped him again. "You are not leaving me," she said, her tone tense. "Do you understand? I have not gone through all this trouble to lose you now. So you a frelling well going to go the distance and hang in there until we're out of here."

"I'm right here," he said and smiled. He wasn't sure it came out right and by the way she looked at him, he assumed it didn't, but he could do nothing to change that now. The darkness was tugging at him and it's hold on him was growing stronger by the microt.

"You better be," she said, gave him another scrutinizing look and then turned around to face the others. "Are you all right?" she asked.

Her voice faded, everything became a murmur in the background while he could hear the screams from far away. They were drawing closer, the inferno, Hell, and soon it would engulf him and swallow him whole. And there was not a thing he could do about it. His gaze shifted away from Aeryn and over to the viewport and he found himself almost longing for it be over.


Aeryn looked from Sturla to Zitta and back again, something telling her that there was trouble at hand. Telk stood a few feet behind the two females and even he stared in disbelief at something behind her.

Aeryn glanced sideways, then turned her head a little. John was standing behind her where she had left him, but that was it. She turned around to face him and frowned at him. John was staring off into the distance, his expression almost sad for a microt before it became placid. His eyes glazed over and turned white while the last remnant of color drained from his skin.

"NO!" Aeryn yelled, surprising herself with the force of her voice. "DON'T YOU FRELLING LEAVE ME!" she screamed at him and slapped him hard enough to drive him back a few steps.

His head moved bonelessly as he brought it up again, white orbs with no indication of a pupil staring back at her. "Worms crawl in," he rasped in a fading voice. "Worms crawl out." Then he raised his right hand toward her.

"Aeryn, get out of the way. We can't shoot him if you're in the way," Sturla yelled frantically.

Aeryn slapped his hand away and turned back to face the two females. "NO!" she snapped. "I'm not letting you shoot him."

Zitta's expression was one of pain and understanding. "Aeryn, he's gone. The man you knew is gone," she tried.

Aeryn stared angrily at her. "No, I am not letting you shoot him," she insisted. John's hand fell onto her shoulder, grabbing with little strength and she could not convince herself that this was dangerous.

Sturla was nervous, that much was clear, because she fired a shot without wanting to. It grazed John's forehead, knocking him back a step, but his hand never left Aeryn's shoulder.

Aeryn raised both hands. "Stop it," she snapped after having sent one glance over her shoulder to make sure he wasn't badly hit. "Hold your frelling fire."

Sturla looked anxious enough to burst and Zitta's hand holding her gun was shivering. "Aeryn," Zitta yelped, but Aeryn wasn't fast enough to understand what she was waving at when she waved the gun frantically at her.

She felt his breath on the side of her neck only a split microt before she felt the pain and there was no doubt in her mind what was happening. She responded immediately in self defense by hammering a fist backward, dislodging his teeth from her shoulder. She spun around, ready to knock him out, when Zitta's nervousness became too much. She pulled the trigger and the shot slammed into his right side, driving him back further and into the bulkhead.

A shot that would have been fatal under other circumstances only left a slightly oozing black indentation in his side. His head lolled, then he stretched both arms out and tried to grab Aeryn.

Aeryn shied back, unable to fathom that this had happened. Whatever the ship was doing, it was speeding up. They had to get out now or they would all be lost.

"If you won't let us shoot him, then at least let us get him out of the marauder," Sturla begged with fear in her voice. "Aeryn, he's going to kill us all," she added.

"Sturla is right," Zitta agreed. "He's gone, Aeryn. Let him go."

Aeryn hammered him back against the bulkhead and wiped the back of one hand over her lips. "No," she whispered.

"He's gone," Zitta said and grabbed her uninjured shoulder in a strong grip. "Look at him. That's not the man you love."

The zombie that had once been John pushed away from the bulkhead again and started forward again and Aeryn drove him back once more. She saw the reason in Zitta's words, but could not convince herself entirely. There had to be a way to make this all go away. It could not end this way.

Suddenly, Sturla screamed and slammed into both of them, driving them sideways away from John. Aeryn looked around and noted that Telk had obviously turned as well. "Frell this," she snarled, retrieved her guns from the females and proceeded to drive both Telk and John down the corridor toward the hatch.

She used every bit of her remaining strength to do so and once she got them there and opened the hatch, she threw Telk out first. She could not bring herself to kill him any more than she could do it to John.

John lunged for her again and she grabbed his arm and propelled him out the hatch. She winched when he hit the floor with a resounding crash and then stood in the opening and stared down at him. "John," she whispered, anguish in her voice.

He struggled to get back up, his movements stiff and slow. Once he regained his feet, he paused and tilted his head backward a little to look up at her. And in every respect, Aeryn could not leave him behind. Her hand went to her belly, to the unborn child in stasis, and she felt her eyes burn and her mind swirl with all the things she should have said to him, but never had. "John," she repeated and started down the steps.

Zitta grabbed her arm, stopping her. "No, Aeryn," she said. "He's gone. Let him go."

"No, he's coming with us," she disagreed. "I'll find a way to get him back to normal. I can't leave him behind. He's the father of my child," she continued and tried to pull out of Zitta's grip.

Sturla intervened and grabbed her other arm. "It's time to go. We have to leave now," she said, "before the rest of us are swallowed whole by this vessel. Please!"

Together, the two females hauled Aeryn back inside and Zitta slapped a flat hand against the closing mechanism. The ladder retracted and the door cycled shut and all Aeryn could do was stand there and stare until there was nothing left to see.

She felt the need to scream, to rage, to take this out on someone, but in the end, she knew there was only one way to deal with this. "Let's get the frell out of here," she finally said, pulled out of their grip and hurried back to the cockpit.

She found the manual override for the weapons array and used a control column to aim the weapons at the bay doors. Then she released her hold on the column. "I can't," she whispered. "I can't do this."

"Then let me," Zitta said and grabbed the column. "What do I do?" she asked and glanced up at Aeryn.

Aeryn closed her eyes for a microt, then pointed to the black button embedded in the column. "Press that to fire," she said and turned away. She walked over to the other side of the cockpit and looked out at the bay.

The marauder was now surrounded by zombies again, all of them just standing around and waiting. John stood at the very front, his head tilted slightly to the right, his dead eyes on the marauder. And something inside her broke at the sight.

Before she could make up her mind to rush back and let him back in, Zitta suddenly yelped and reeled backwards into her. Aeryn caught her before she could fall and looked over at Sturla, who stood very still and stared at the column. Aeryn pulled her pulse pistol and aimed it at her when Sturla turned her head and blank white orbs looked back at her. "You're not stopping us," she whispered. "This is for my child," she added hoarsely and fired three shots. All of them hit Sturla in the head, generally disintegrating it, and the body fell limply to the floor.

Zitta clapped both hands over her mouth and just stared at the carnage. Then she glanced at Aeryn. "We should leave. Right now," she whispered.

"Yes," Aeryn agreed, her mind dull. "But first we get rid of the bodies," she added. "I don't much feel like hauling them through space with us."

Together, the two of them moved the bodies of the Kentar-sisters, Kl'tah, Sturla and that zombie that had attacked Aeryn back to the hatch, opened it and threw them out. Several of the zombies waiting started toward the marauder, but they managed to close the hatch before any of them were close enough.

Then Aeryn and Zitta returned to the cockpit and Aeryn fired the weapons array. The bay doors blew out immediately and the marauder jerked forward. Its landing gear screeched across the bay floor, but Aeryn was oblivious to the noise. She had left the weapons control and had returned to the other side of the cockpit to watch as the marauder was hauled out of the bay followed by a cloud of debris. None of the zombies were sucked out with them, which made it very clear to her that they indeed belonged to the carrier now.

While the marauder slowly drifted away from the carrier, lights all over the control boards started glowing faintly as the vessel came back to life around them. But all Aeryn could do was stand at the hammon side of the view port and stare at the opening to the bay of the carrier, her mind in turmoil.

"There was nothing you could have done, Aeryn," Zitta said behind her.

Aeryn continued to stare at the dwindling black square of the bay opening. "I could have acted faster," she finally said and straightened up. "I could have done something, anything," she added in a whisper.

Zitta draped a hand onto her shoulder and gave it a gentle tug. "Let's take care of your wounds before they become infected," she suggested quietly.

Aeryn sent another lingering look back toward the carrier. Then she closed her eyes and allowed Zitta to lead her away from the view port. A part of her she left behind on that carrier. A big part. The part that had been and always would be John.