The present

Another turn of the corridor brought her to the door to Pilot's den. Aeryn hesitated briefly, the memory of that conversation she'd had with Chiana four cycles ago still alive and very vivid in her mind. What was the point of pretending that things got better? They didn't. Not for her. Not as long as she knew he might still be out there, alive and suffering. For there was no doubt in her mind that he still existed in his truest form.

A brief moment of respite was all she allowed herself before she opened the door and stepped into Pilot's den. "Here I am," she announced, well aware that Pilot knew she was coming.

His giant head came up and he eyed her with the same concern both D'Argo and Chiana always seemed to have in their eyes. They knew that she was still blaming herself, knew that she was not going to get over this at any point. She needed closure and none of them were able to offer her that. "So I see," he said and tilted his head slightly to the right. "I have something to show you," he added and held a claw out to her.

Aeryn strode across the bridge and stopped in front of his console. "What is it, Pilot?" she asked. She was mustering as much interest and attention as she could at this point. Mostly, her mind tried to wander though.

"Early in the day cycle, Moya detected a command carrier on the outer rim of her scanning range," Pilot said and showed Aeryn a recording of said carrier.

"I assume it didn't see us?" she asked and regarded the image with sadness.

"I do not believe so, no," Pilot confirmed. "Moya first wanted to flee, but the carrier did not take up pursuit," he continued and the image shifted to a closer scan of the carrier. "We have both kept a close eye on its position and it has occurred to me that this carrier is adrift. It is dead in space."

Suddenly, there was no need to feign interest any more. Aeryn frowned at him and returned her attention to the image of the carrier. "Did you run a scan of it? Is there life on board?" she asked.

"I did so, yes, and no, there is no life on board. The carrier is completely dead and adrift," Pilot said and showed her the playback of the scans he had run. "Its identity beacon identifies it as a carrier that has been reported missing about four cycles ago," he added and gave her a scrutinizing look. "Could this not be ... 'that' carrier?"

A quick glance at the readouts confirmed her suspicion and Pilot's as well. "Yes, it is 'that' carrier," she agreed and for the first time in a long time she felt something akin to excitement. But it was mixed with a good portion of fear and sadness as well. "Can you get us closer and still stay out of frag canon range?"

"Yes," Pilot said. "But ... why would you want to get closer? Should we not leave?"

Aeryn grabbed his claw and kept staring at the display. "No, Pilot," she said quietly. "We should not leave. The carrier itself is not dangerous to us." She paused and briefly closed her eyes. "I need to know," she muttered. "I need to make sure."

"Make sure of what?" Pilot asked, concern in his voice.

"Can you ready a pod for me?" she countered, ignoring his question.

Pilot's eyes widened. "Aeryn, no," he said, definitely concerned now. "You cannot think of going over there."

"I have to, Pilot. I need to know. It has haunted me for four frelling cycles. I need to know," she insisted.

"Know what? According to Zitta, there is no chance of survival on that carrier. Why would you willingly subject yourself to such danger?" Pilot asked, all upset now. "You must think of your young one," he added.

Aeryn closed her eyes again and kept them closed for a moment. Then she released his claw and stepped back. "I must do this for Ayla as well as for me. If there is the slightest chance that she can get her father back, I am willing to risk it. I must do this. If for nothing other than my own peace of mind," she said, swirled around and ran back to the door.

"Aeryn," Pilot called after her.

She stopped at the door and glanced back at him. "Please, don't try to stop me, Pilot."

"I do not wish to," he said sadly. "Fly safe," he added.

Aeryn smiled. "Thank you, Pilot."


"Are you out of your frelling mind?" D'Argo huffed. He grabbed her arm and pulled her back from the pod's ladder. "I will not let you do this," he added angrily.

Aeryn pulled her arm out of his grasp and turned back to face him. "It's not up to you to decide what I do or don't do," she countered aggressively. "This is something I have to do and I will frelling do it any way I can," she added.

Zitta turned up with Ayla in tow, obviously hoping to dissuade her from going off on this suicide mission by having her daughter there. But Aeryn was not easily dissuaded once she had made up her mind. She squatted down and opened her arms to Ayla, who ran over to her and threw her arms around her neck. "I will not be gone long, Ayla," she promised and kissed her daughter's neck.

"You're totally tinked," Chiana said.

"Fahrbot. Magra fahrbot," Rygel agreed. "What the frell do you expect to accomplish on a dead carrier?"

Aeryn rose again and handed her daughter over to Zitta. "I need to make certain that I have not gone insane, that this is not something I've been pondering in vain for the past four cycles." She glanced around at them and knew she would find the biggest support in Chiana. But even she didn't look very supportive right now. "Why can't you understand this?" she asked, her expression revealing that she felt betrayed by them. She turned her attention to D'Argo. "If this was Chiana we were talking about, would you not do the same?" she asked him, then turned her attention to Chiana. "Or you? If it were D'Argo, would you not try all you could to get him back?"

"And even if you do find him and can bring him over here," D'Argo said, his expression as dark as his tone, "what makes you think he'll revert back to normal?"

"It happened to the marauder, D'Argo. It came alive again as soon as it was away from the carrier. And Veeton. Remember him? His progress toward being one of those ... living dead; it was suspended and reversed once he was away from the carrier. I have been thinking of nothing else for the past four cycles, D'Argo. Nothing else. I cannot get it out of my mind, cannot move on until I know for certain," she said, trying desperately to convince him, to convince all of them.

D'Argo stepped forward and wrapped his hands around her face. "Aeryn," he said, his tone almost tender. "When I saw you on that marauder, right after you came back, I thought you were going to die. After hearing what had happened to John, what you must have gone through, I feared you would die even as your wounds healed. You have a child now, a daughter who needs you. And we need you too. Are you willing to risk all that on a whim?"

She wrapped her hands around his wrists and pulled his hands away from her face. "It is not a whim, D'Argo," she said quietly. "It is something I have to do to settled four cycles of doubts. Either way, I will find peace today," she added, stepped back and turned toward the pod.

"And what if you don't?" Chiana asked, stopping her. "What if nothing happens over there? Will you return and be at peace then?"

Aeryn had stopped with one foot on the first rung. At Chiana's words, she glanced back over her shoulder at the Nebari. "Either way, Chiana, yes, I will," she said.

Chiana nodded. "Fly safe," she said and took a step back, grabbed Ayla and hoisted her onto her hip. "Let's go play, Ayla," she said to the little girl, gave Aeryn another brief glance and left the bay without looking back.

D'Argo stood there, his arms crossed over his chest, his expression dark once again. Zitta just watched, her expression unreadable as always. Rygel huffed, turned his thronesled around and sped out of the bay.

With a light shake of the head, Aeryn climbed the ladder to the pod and closed the hatch behind her. Whatever came next, it would mean glory or death.


The carrier loomed large and dangerous in front of her, dead for all intents and purposes. It was much like the Zelbinion had been when they had come across it, except this one had no battle scars that indicated it had been involved in a lengthy engagement of any kind.

Aeryn steered the pod around the giant hulk of a ship in search of the opening she herself had created all those cycles ago. And sure enough, she found the bay opening with the doors blown out. Automatic defenses ensured that the protective forcefield kept the atmosphere of the carrier from escaping while marauders and the like took off and landed and that forcefield was what protected the interior of the carrier now.

All lights were off, though, and from the scan she had asked Pilot to run, it was evident that the inside of the carrier was almost as cold as the space surrounding it. The heaters had quit somewhere along the line or had been shut down to preserve power. Either way, anything alive in there would have frozen to death a long time ago.

The thought was discouraging at best, but Aeryn was not bound to give up. She needed to make sure that her theory was sound. Dressed in her flight suit, she guided the pod toward the dark opening and hoped that this ship did not oppose her wish to land. She held her breath when her pod neared the opening and then easily slid through it.

Within microts the vessel had settled and Aeryn tried to figure out what to do next. The bay was dark and empty out there, not very inviting. Her initial thought had been that she would go out and look for John, but she wasn't so sure that was a good idea any more. The carrier didn't invite for that kind of exploration.

Uncertain about her next steps, Aeryn remained in the cockpit and just watched the bay. She kept checking the power levels to make sure she could still take off and had promised herself that she would leave before anything could happen. The last thing she wanted was to be sucked into this carrier's evil reality and end up like the others.

For a long, long time nothing at all happened and Aeryn was beginning to think that D'Argo could be right. Maybe she was wasting her time.

"Aeryn. "

The crackle of the com along with D'Argo's voice made her jump and she realized that she was a little more tense about being on this carrier than she had thought at first. She drew in a deep breath and let out a long sigh, then tapped the com pinned to her suit. "Yes, D'Argo?"

A moment of silence followed that, then some static and then D'Argo's voice came through again. "How long are you going to remain on that wreck? "

Aeryn frowned and rose from her seat. There was movement outside. Several of the walking dead were approaching the pod. Aeryn watched them for a moment, then tapped her com again. "As long as it takes, D'Argo. But I'll be out of here before the pod loses power," she replied.

It was strange to watch these walking dead moving around out there. It had to be cold enough for them to freeze instantly, yet they kept moving. She watched them lumbering around, most of them seeming to be unable to coordinate their movements for more than forward motion.

"I do not think it is a good idea for you to stay there, Aeryn, " D'Argo's voice rang from the com.

But Aeryn paid no attention to him right then. Her gaze was locked on the half-burned form of a female Peacekeeper lumbering around outside among all the others. "Frell," she muttered.

"What's wrong? "

Aeryn closed her eyes briefly. "Nothing, D'Argo. The carrier is freezing and these ... beings are still out there, walking around as best they can," she replied. "I'm signing off now. I'll get back to you when I can," she added and tapped the com off before he could answer. She knew it was probably a bad idea to do this, but she could not concentrate on what she had in mind if she had D'Argo's admonishing voice buzzing in her ear all the time.

She stepped up to the viewport and watched the lumbering shape of Comandant Mele-on Grayza with nothing short of disgust. That female had definitely gotten what she deserved. But all the others? She glanced around at them, lingering on the odd crew member she thought she recognized and finally shook her head. No, nobody deserved this. Not even Grayza. But what could she do about it?

A glance at the power readouts told her that she was losing precious time. There was a dip in the power reserve; not big, but big enough to worry her. Anxiously, she returned her attention to the bay outside and watched the lumbering shapes going in and out of the shadows outside the ring of light cast by the pod. John, however, was nowhere in sight.

"Come on, come on," she whispered tensely, but not even her verbal urging brought him into the light. All she could do was wait.

For half an arn she remained vigilant and ready to leave. The power readouts took another dip and she knew she would have to leave once the indicator reached fifty percent. There was no other way out for her and with or without John, she would have to leave. It was a hard decision to make and would be even harder to implement, but there was no way around it if she wanted to live. And she did have Ayla to consider now.

She assumed she should check in with the others, but she didn't really want to do that until she could verify that she either had John or had at least seen him. Since she could confirm neither, she didn't want to contact them. "Frell," she muttered under her breath, but maintained her vigilance.

Another half arn passed while the bay filled up with the carrier's soulless occupants, but still there was no sign of John. The power readouts were down to seventy-five percent, instilling a sense of urgency in Aeryn that she would just as soon have been without. Unless things sped up, she had another half arn before she would be forced to abandon this plan and think of another.

"Frell," she said loudly and exhaled noisily. "What the frell does it take?" she asked herself aloud and scanned the increasingly inhibited walking dead outside. They were stepping on each other's toes, bumping into each other, and the thought that John would have been able to see the humor in this scene overwhelmed her for a microt.

She closed her eyes and fought for control over her suddenly rampaging emotions. Then she opened her eyes again and instantly caught sight of him. He had just entered the circle of light and was lumbering around just as much as the others. But there seemed to be a certain amount of purpose to his direction as he kept heading toward the pod.

While she watched him, he came to a stop and briefly seemed to glance up at her. Maybe there was something inside him that still remembered that the pod meant salvation. It was perhaps a foolish thought, but it was the only one she had to hold onto right now; that some part of him still remembered the vessel and her; that he would come to her now.

She readjusted the cameras along the outside and turned on the landing lights along the hamman side of the pod. They could act as direction-lights as well, lighting a path to the hatch.

One glance at the power readouts told her she still had time. She donned her helmet and switched the outside view over to the small view screen by the hatch and headed that way herself. All she could hope for was that he realized somewhere deep down what she wanted him to do.

On her way to the hatch, she closed the pressure door to the cockpit behind her, but left the one leading into the cargo hold open. The arrangements she had made were crude, but if she could lure him into the hold without having to open the rear loading ramp, she would be able to lock him securely inside and seal him off from the rest of the pod.


Pain. Fire. Agony. Mental as well as physical. He felt nothing but pain, heard nothing but pain, saw nothing but pain. He was pain, inside and out. He screamed although his throat had long since gone raw with it and the screaming caused him pain as well. Everything hurt. Thinking hurt. Anything he did or thought caused him pain. But the pain was old and well-versed in asserting itself. He knew it by now, could almost call it a friend. No, the pain was not the worst. The demeaning treatment, the whip, the pain inflicted by that half-burned bitch, a leer on her singed lips, a glint in her burnt eyes. He hated her, feared her, despised her and shrank in terror from her. She spoke but never answered, she touched but never consoled, she ripped at his soul and left it bleeding and weak. And all he could do was scream, in pain, in outrage, in terror. It was all the same to her. All she did was hurt him and all he did was scream.

An icy chill slithered through him. His limbs were frozen, his joints almost immobile. Darkness and groans around him. The fire was gone, but the burnt bitch wasn't. He veered away from her, finding that his head would not turn. His neck was stiff, barely allowing him to move, but as he turned, he saw the vessel. It struck a cord of recognition in him. He rolled his eyes upward, saw the shape in the light, and wanted to reach for her. But he couldn't. The light meant salvation, an absolution from pain. He needed to follow the light before the fire and the pain swallowed him again.

Flames licked up around him and he drew back, temporarily free of his bonds. "AERYN!" His voice, hoarse and cracked, had found a new purpose. He could call a name, scream it at the top of his lungs. He thought he had seen her, had felt her near, but now she was gone and there was fire and pain again.

And then he was immobile again, incapable of freeing himself. His skin burned with fire and fear, the sound of the whip made him close his eyes, but even then he could see. There was no respite, no rest, no release. Only pain and the burned bitch.


Aeryn watched the screen with apprehension, wishing she could just go out there and grab him, but she knew that would pretty much be suicide. So she had to wait and hope that John B or what was left of him B knew how to follow the signs. The microts ticked by while she watched several of the beings out there lumbering into view in front of the hatch and then disappear again. She started tapping her foot impatiently without thinking about it. "Where are you?" she whispered, but then stopped short when an idea asserted itself. Why hadn't she thought of that before? Without hesitation, she switched on the outside speakers. "John?" she called and watched the scene outside intently. For a microt, everything outside froze. Then several of the walking dead started toward the pod. "John," she tried again, lending her voice more strength. "Come to the hatch," she tried. "If you can understand me, come to the hatch. It's time to go home."

She had no idea if this would work or not, but she had to try. Whether he had heard her or not, he suddenly lumbered into view of the external camera and instead of following the others lead and trying to find an entrance where the speaker was, he moved more or less directly to the ladder leading up to the hatch.

"That's it. Come on," she urged him on and he seemed to respond to her voice. Another walking dead tried to squeeze in front of him when he reached a stiff hand out for the ladder and his immediate response was to crowd that being out of the way.

Aeryn smiled a little, secured her helmet to avoid being frozen to the spot once the hatch opened up into the biting cold outside, and pushed the release. It was on a 20 microt cycle, where after it would close again and she hoped it was enough time for him to get inside.

He was at the hatch opening now and Aeryn backed off and pulled her pulse pistol at the same time. She loved him to death, but she was not taking any chances. The icy cold air of the bay entered the corridor in a huff of ice crystals, followed by an equally cold-looking John. He lumbered forward, dragging his right leg, and then came to a stop just clear of the hatch. Aeryn counted down slowly from twenty and wondered if he was aware enough to know that he was blocking the others' path inside by standing where he stood. A few of them were trying to climb the ladder, but most of them fell off again.

Then John turned. The way he moved indicated that his entire spine was frozen from top to bottom. The rigidity of his movements was startling. But he was in and as he turned, the hatch behind him cycled shut again and Aeryn breathed a sigh of relief. Then she started to back off, one step after another, while she kept an eye on him and wondered what it was that made these beings follow the living and try to eat them.

John followed her, one agonizing step after another, while he raised one arm and stretched a barely moving hand out towards her. She backed into the cargo hold and made sure she kept enough distance between her and the door so that he couldn't surprise her. She was aware that his speed was very limited right now, but once again she wasn't taking any chances. She wasn't so much afraid of having him attacking her as she was of getting in a situation where she would have to shoot him to get away. He had wounds enough, wounds that were glazed over with a layer of ice.

She jerked her attention away from the wounds and focused on the man instead as he followed her into the hold. Slowly, she backed up to the opposite wall and paused to allow him to follow her. She had put up some crates in the middle of the hold and could edge her way around them so she could get him clear of the door and get out of there before he had a chance to make a grab for her.

Slowly, she started down the length of the hold and he followed her without delay. As soon as she had reached the far end of the hold, she stopped again and waited until he was halfway down the tight isle she had created. Then she bolted along the far end and ran back to the door. Once outside, she slapped a hand onto the door opener and the door slid shut, sealing her precious cargo within. She then entered the code to lock the door and thereby prevented him from opening it from the inside, either by accident or design.

Once she was satisfied that he could not get out, she returned to the hatch, sealed that and then hurried back to the cockpit. Once the pressure door had closed behind her and she had sealed that as well, she pulled her helmet off and hurried over to the controls. Just then, the power readouts dropped to fifty percent. She threw the helmet aside, fired up the engine and pushed the now sluggishly moving pod to leave the bay.

As soon as it was free of the carrier's influence, it quickly regained full power and Aeryn guided it back toward Moya. Only then did she realize that her com was still off. But she didn't bother to turn it on anyway. She settled back in her seat and closed her eyes. So far, everything had turned out the way she had hoped. Now all she could do was hope that things continued to, as John would say, go her way.


D'Argo stood ready and waiting inside the bay doors while the pod settled in the bay beyond. Aeryn's message had been brief and to the point and D'Argo was as ready as he could be when it came to the fact that she had brought something on board that might or might not be John.

After what little Aeryn herself had told them and what Zitta and that Sykaran male had relayed about what had happened on that carrier, D'Argo wasn't too sure he wanted to deal with whatever sickness had caused such radical changes in the people on that carrier. And he did not for even a microt believe in alternate universes and other dimensions that were purely evil.

What he did believe in was Aeryn's request for help. He would do what he could to help her, would go as far as sedating that being she had brought back and help her move it down to a cell in the bowls of Moya, but he was not going to be happy about it.

As the bay doors cycled open, he realized that Aeryn had already opened the hatch and exited the pod. The main reason for that he knew this before seeing it was the smell that emanated from the pod. It stank of death and decay, an overwhelming smell for his sensitive nose.

Aeryn stood at the foot of the ladder, still dressed in her flight suit, her expression somewhere between relief and anxiousness. D'Argo didn't know which he preferred right then. "Where is he?" he asked and stepped forward, his Qualta-blade raised and resting against one shoulder.

"In the cargo hold. He's securely locked in," she replied.

"Hezmana, what a stench. What the frell is that smell?" he demanded and pressed the back of one hand against his nose to block out some of the foulness.

Aeryn made a face. "I'm afraid that's John. You have to remember that he has not bathed or changed his clothes in four cycles, D'Argo," she said. "We need to get him inside. He needs to get warm. He can barely move."

D'Argo shifted his attention from the hatch to Aeryn and frowned. "How the frell did he survive over there? It must have been close to the glarion frost point if the heaters were off."

"I don't think it was that cold," Aeryn disagreed. "But it was cold. Could we do this now, please? The sooner he's locked up in a cell, the better I will feel."

D'Argo huffed. The smell was really bad and it became worse the closer he got to the pod. "Let's do this then," he agreed.

Aeryn started to climb back up the ladder.

"Wouldn't it be easier to let him out through the loading ramp?" D'Argo asked.

Aeryn stopped at the top of the ladder and considered this for a microt. Then she nodded. "Now that you mention it, yes. It will be very difficult to move him any other way."

D'Argo nodded and stepped back to give her room. She circled around the pod and activated the ramp release from the outside. The hatch began to open and released a puff of extremely foul-smelling air that made D'Argo wish he wasn't Luxan for a microt.

"Oh, frell," he exclaimed and covered his nose with one hand. "That is just about the worst thing I've ever smelled."

Aeryn nodded. She did not seem too bothered by the smell, though, and D'Argo envied her lesser olfactory sense. "D'Argo, whatever you do, do not shoot him. Just knock him out if you can," she said, a warning note in her voice.

He gave her a look and nodded, uncertain of what to expect. The cargo hold was dark even with the ramp open and it was difficult to see anything. But he heard and smelled the thing shuffling around in there. To his immediate surprise, he noted that Aeryn had drawn her pulse pistol and that she was extremely tense. But then he saw why.

The first thing that hit him was that he would never be able to call that creature slowly shuffling toward them John. Although this creature had a passing resemblance to his friend, all the things that were John Crichton were missing. The smell of death and decay hung like a foul cloud around him. His head was tilted slightly to the left and he had a gaping wound on his brow. His t-shirt, torn and burned in places and caked in filth, revealed further wounds on his arms and another larger one on his stomach. His eyes were glazed over with a milky layer and revealed only the barest hint of a pupil in the middle. He was dragging his right leg a little and generally didn't lift his feet off the floor when he walked; or rather shambled.

D'Argo stared at this apparition of evil and was caught somewhere between the nauseating feeling of unexplainable fear and disgust and mind numbing sadness that this was all that was left of his friend.

The creature's attention, it seemed, was solely on Aeryn though. His right arm came up, slowly, fingers moving a little as he reached for her. D'Argo responded on instinct and tongued him immediately. It only struck him afterwards that he had no way of knowing whether that would work. But it did. John hit the deck stiff as a board and remained there, motionless.

All D'Argo could do at first was just stare at him. Then he made a face in sheer disgust. "Hezmana," he rasped and wiped his lips with the back of one hand. "He tastes as bad as he smells."

Aeryn gave him a quick glance. "Let's get him to the cell," she said, ignoring his comment.

With a bit of effort and a lot of complaints on D'Argo's side about the smell, they got the prone figure to the cell on the lower level, and all that without Ayla catching on to what was happening. D'Argo had strictly forbidden Zitta and Chiana to let the girl anywhere near the landing bay or the lower level until Aeryn gave the all clear. And now he was happy he'd insisted on that. There was no way in Hezmana that he would ever want Ayla to see this being that had once been her father. She would probably be frightened out of her mind and at the same time she would ask questions. And knowing Aeryn's rather vague view on upbringing, the female would probably tell her offspring that this was her father.

D'Argo could not imagine what kind of horrible traumas that would instill in the little girl and he had no intention of ever finding out.

Once the creature was in the cell, D'Argo left Aeryn outside to watch over him and returned to the center chamber. He quickly found a bottle of Luxan ale, a very strong-tasting brew, and used it to wash away the taste that lingered on his tongue.

Then he settled down at the table with the bottle and decided to drink himself into a stupor. This was not a development he approved of or liked. Not in the least.