Sleep did not come easily and when it finally did, it was laced with nightmarish overtones, which made her whimper in her sleep. Aeryn tossed and turned, twisting into the cover, finding herself caught in a world where she didn't belong, where everyone she had ever known had abandoned her, where she was being mocked and taunted, pushed and hurt.

Scenes which belonged nowhere on any world she had ever been on, real or imaginary, tested her temper, her patience, and through it all, she could hear him calling her name, desperate for her, needing her help. She could hear him, but she couldn't find him. And nobody wanted to help her. They all tried to get in her way, ugly faces, foul breaths, long bony fingers grabbing her arms and holding her back.

"LEAVE ME ALONE," she screamed, yet her voice had no strength and she was drowned out by an impossible noise.

"AERYN! HELP ME!"

She turned and twisted in this nightmarish world, attempting to find him, attempting to reach him. She could sense him just within her grasp, but just far enough away that she couldn't touch, couldn't reach.

"JOHN!" She called his name, hoping he would answer her, wishing she could find him so she could wrap her arms around him and keep him safe. Wishing desperately to feel his arms around her and his whispered words that things would be fine, it was a Human trait after all to believe in the good. "JOHN!" she tried again, reaching out to a shadow which had to be him, but which turned out to be Scorpius instead, leering at her. She reeled backward, throwing her arms up to protect herself.

"Officer Sun!"

A voice not belonging in the nightmare reached her and she sat bolt upright, the tangled sheets making it impossible for her to move her legs. Blinking rapidly, she tried to determine where she was, then realized that she had been sleeping, had been dreaming.

"Officer Sun!" she heard Pilot calling her again, his voice concerned.

"Yes, Pilot?" she answered him, finally finding her voice as she untangled herself from the sheet and swung her legs over the edge of the bed. "What's the matter?"

"I ... think I found something." Pilot hesitated, sounding uncertain. "Although it is a signal coming in on a Peacekeeper frequency," he added.

Aeryn frowned and brushed a strand of wayward hair out of her eyes. "What makes this one different?" she wanted to know and quickly pulled her pants on, stuck her feet into her boots and hurried to Pilot's den as fast as her sprain would let her.

She cleared the door of the den before Pilot answered her. "It ... is strange," he said, raising his massive head to meet her eyes. "A message comprised of three letters that make no sense."

Aeryn limped across the central bridge over to the console. "What three letters?" she asked.

"It says SOS and repeats over and over again," Pilot replied. "I do not know what that means. There is no equivalent in Moya's data stores."

Aeryn stared at him, having no idea what they meant either. That didn't matter much, though. It was weird and, as far as she knew, there was only one person who could have sent something like that on a subspace frequency. "That's from John," she said, her voice steady, her conviction strong. "Can you trace it?" she asked, turning her attention back to Pilot.

"Well ... yes," Pilot said, still sounding doubtful. "But ... there is nothing out there," he added, waving at the display of the view of space outside Moya.

"How far away is it?" Aeryn asked, staring intently at the emptiness out there.

"Several thousand metras and the message just keeps repeating. It's like ... a beacon," Pilot said.

"How long will it take us to find the source of the message?" Aeryn asked on, pointedly ignoring Pilot's confusion.

"It is a short starburst away," Pilot said, turning his attention from the display back to Aeryn. "We should be able to see it, but there's nothing out there," he repeated.

"Let's go there anyway. Just in case," Aeryn said, her eyes still scanning for something she couldn't see.

"As you wish," Pilot replied and alerted the rest of the crew of their intention to starburst immediately.

***

Aeryn hurried to Command, valiantly ignoring her sore foot, to get a better view and stared intently at the part of space she could see, when D'Argo, Chiana and Jool joined her. Microts later, even Rygel turned up, looking more asleep than awake.

"What the yotz is this all about?" he demanded.

"A signal," Aeryn replied, not bothering to explain further.

"What the yotz does that mean?" the Hynerian asked, giving her a scrutinizing look. "Are you losing your mind just like that frelling human?"

Aeryn turned her head to give him an angry glare. "Shut up, Rygel," she warned him and returned her attention to what looked like empty space outside. "Where is the signal coming from, Pilot?" she asked.

"Straight ahead," Pilot replied, still sounding rather dubious. "According to my readings, it should be right in front of us. But there is still nothing there."

"Oh yes, there is," D'Argo suddenly snarled, tensing up as he pointed toward the far corner of the viewscreen. "A full Command Carrier. Pilot, starburst immediately," he yelled.

"NO!" Aeryn counteracted that command, her eyes on the looming presence of the Carrier. "Deploy the dockingweb, Pilot. Right now," she demanded. "They're still too far away to launch a full attack."

D'Argo froze and gave her a strange look. "There's nothing out there but that frelling Command Carrier, Aeryn," he said, his tone incredulous. "You're not suggesting to web the Carrier, are you?" he demanded.

Aeryn rolled her eyes. "No, D'Argo. There's a prowler out there. A black ghost. The reason it doesn't show up on the viewscreen is because it's virtually invisible," she explained, then turned her attention to the clamshell. "Pilot, the web. Now!"

***

Scorpius' Command Carrier

Braca stared at the display, his expression taunt. The scanner showed the indistinct outline of a prowler, which would be invisible if it hadn't been for the specific signal it was giving off. It was drifting, no obvious signs of life from the inside. But that didn't have him worried. What did, however, was the Leviathan without a control collar floating very close to the prowler.

His eyes narrowed slightly. "Aim at the Leviathan," he told the gunner. "But, for the love of Cholok, do not hit the prowler."

The gunner trained the frag canons on the Leviathan. "Sir, there is no way we won't hit the prowler if we fire on the Leviathan from this angle," he said after moment.

Braca's expression tensed even more. "Frell," he muttered under his breath. "Shift our position until you have a clear shot," he added louder. "Hamman two hundred metras," he added.

"Take no chances."

Having hoped that he could avoid telling Scorpius about their present predicament until it was over, Braca briefly closed his eyes before turning around to face the half-breed. "We won't," he assured.

"Good, Lieutenant. Our frag cannons should convince the Leviathan to keep back," Scorpius said, his eyes on the viewscreen. "We must not lose this prowler."

"Sir," Braca said and turned back to the task at hand.

***

Aboard Moya

"Deploy the dockingweb," Aeryn repeated angrily. There was no doubt in her mind that she was doing the right thing. The only thing that had her worried was the very obvious chance that D'Argo might interfere in more ways than shouting at her.

"Frelling Sebacean," D'Argo roared, waving toward the display. "Does that not strike you as being just a little bit dangerous?"

"The Command Carrier is moving into position to fire," Pilot announced nervously.

"Deploy the dockingweb, Pilot," Aeryn repeated again, anger and nervousness vying for control inside her. "Right now! Or can't you do it?"

"Well ... I suppose I can," Pilot replied dubiously.

"Then do it. Aim it at the signal. There is a prowler out there. We just can't see it," Aeryn insisted, never taking her eyes of the display and the rapidly approaching Command Carrier.

"Deploying dockingweb now," Pilot announced. The physical presence of the web became visible when it wrapped itself around something invisible. "It appears that you were right, Officer Sun. There is something out there."

Aeryn smiled a little harshly. "Pull it in and let's go," she told him, then turned to D'Argo. "I cannot believe that you would have chosen to run instead of saving John," she told him, her tone icy.

"We don't know that it's John," D'Argo told her angrily. "And what the frell is a black ghost anyway?" he demanded.

"A special type of prowler," Aeryn replied, then turned her attention back to the clamshell. "Pilot, do you have the prowler?" she asked.

"Yes, Officer Sun. And Moya is preparing for immediate starburst," Pilot replied.

"Good. Let's get out of here while we still can," Aeryn said, her shoulders sagging a little. She was suddenly very much aware of her present injuries, old and new, and it seemed to drain the strength from her.

To her immediate surprise, Chiana suddenly appeared next to her, slipping an arm around her waist. "Let's go see what the frelling human is up to now," she suggested with a smile.

Aeryn merely looked at her for a microt, trying to determine if the Nebari had an angle here. She just couldn't figure out what it might be. Then she slipped an arm around Chiana's shoulders and allowed her to help her walk.

***

Scorpius' Command Carrier

All they could do was stand and watch as the Leviathan turned, very evidently preparing for starburst, the prowler caught in its dockingweb. Braca swallowed hard as the ship disappeared, taking their intended prey with it. At that very microt, he would have given anything to be away from the bridge, away from this Carrier and the anger that Scorpius was going to display at losing Crichton once again.

The frag canon barked, shooting at now empty space a microt too late. An eerie silence settled over the bridge while everybody stared at the spot where the Leviathan had vanished. Nobody dared to look at Scorpius, who was uncommonly silent in the face of this disaster.

His eyes were on the viewscreen, his whole demeanor that of a man who couldn't figure out if he was dreaming or awake. Then he slowly turned his head, his eyes searching out Braca.

"Lieutenant," he said, his tone calm. "Return us to the base at best speed."

Braca's back straightened a little more as he turned to face Scorpius. "I apologize for this failure, Sir. I feel responsible," he said, hoping somehow to prevent Scorpius from killing half his crew out of anger. But what he saw when he met Scorpius' eyes was not what he had expected. The half-breed looked neither angry nor disappointed.

"It was a chance at best, Lieutenant," he replied, sighed lightly and glanced back at the viewscreen. "No matter. Crichton will return to us in time," he added, turned around and strode away.

If Braca had been prone to such displays, he mouth would have been hanging open at that point. Instead, however, he settled for staring at Scorpius' receding back with nothing short of disbelief. "Sir," he said, his tone displaying the level of his surprise much more than his expression did. He would never learn to fully understand the half-breed.

Glancing over at the navigator, he frowned. "You heard him. Return to base at best speed," he snapped, causing the man to jump into action at once. Braca then glanced around the bridge. "What are you all staring at? Get back to work," he added and left the bridge himself.

***

Aboard Moya

"We are away," Pilot's voice rang from the comsystem while Aeryn and the others made their way to the landing bay. "Moya has successfully starbursted away from the Carrier."

D'Argo, still somewhat shaken by Aeryn's obviously suicidal tendencies, glanced upward. "That is good to hear, Pilot," he replied and walked briskly toward the landing bay, his Qualta blade leaning against his shoulder.

Glancing over his shoulder at Aeryn, who was still leaning on Chiana, he made a face. "I cannot believe you would risk us all on a notion," he growled. "You are frelling fahrbot, Sebacean," he added.

"Frell you," Aeryn spat back, aggravated. "You would have left without even bothering to find out if that was John or not. It's so nice to know that he can rely on his 'friends'."

"Now, now," Chiana admonished them. "We got away, right? So what's the problem? Why do you two always have to behave like a bunch of thoddos?"

D'Argo growled angrily. "I am not behaving like a thoddo," he disagreed.

"Yes, you are. So, stop it," Chiana replied.

"You are not old enough to tell me what to do," D'Argo snapped and came to a stop. Turning back to face her, he gave her a withering glare, expecting her to back down.

Chiana and Aeryn came to a stop too, both of them giving him a look that told him he wasn't being taken serious again. "I do think we have something more important to do than stand around here and insult each other," Aeryn said, her expression tense.

"Right you are," Chiana agreed.

"What if the prowler pilot is a Peacekeeper commando?" D'Argo asked, angry enough to spit. "We may all get shot the microt we enter that frelling bay."

"Would you rather return to your quarters and wait this out?" Aeryn asked back, her eyes cold. "You are a warrior. Behave like one." With that, she let go of Chiana's shoulders and limped on toward the landing bay, every step she took full of anger.

***

The landing bay's doors were still closed when they reached it. Aeryn pulled her pulse pistol and stepped up to them, her heart thudding away in her chest with enough speed to make it unpleasant. When the doors opened, two things could happen. Either they would be faced by an enraged black ghost, as the pilots of the vessels were also called, or they would find John on the other side of those doors.

"Has the prowler settled, Pilot?" Aeryn asked Pilot, glancing toward the ceiling.

"Yes," Pilot replied.

"Any sign of life?" she asked on and sent a quick glance over her shoulder at the three others standing behind her. D'Argo still looked angry, but also alert.

"None at the moment," Pilot replied. "Whoever the pilot is, he or she is still inside."

"Open the doors, Pilot," Aeryn said and took a step back when the doors started to open.

The sleek hull of the black ghost made Aeryn remember her first sighting of one of those vessels. It had taken her breath away. The unreflective hull made it impossible to spot this vessel in space. She wasn't entirely certain of how it was possible, but she had heard whispers about how the material the hull was made off used some kind of technique to fold space around it in order to make it disappear.

She stepped forward, her eyes trailing over it. There was no sign of damage, no indication that this vessel had been in combat at any point, and that made her frown. These vessels along with their specially trained pilots saw a lot more action than normal prowler pilots did. This vessel was as sleek and unmarred as if it had just come off the assembly line.

Raising her pulse pistol, she trained it at the still closed canopy and slowly moved closer, knowing that D'Argo was watching her back. "Any sign of life, Pilot?" she asked again.

"No, none," Pilot replied. "There seems to be no movement inside."

Grabbing a hold of the ladder, Aeryn stared up at the prowler before she glanced back at D'Argo, who gave her a nod. He had her covered.

She returned her attention to the prowler and examined the exterior, searching for the manual release hatch for the canopy and found it under a flap. With a deep breath, nervous like never before, she pressed the button and leaned back a little to look up at the top of the prowler. Air hissed into the cockpit when the canopy started to rise. It was obvious to her that there hadn't been much atmosphere left in the cockpit.

D'Argo stood his ground, his Qualta blade armed and ready. Aeryn glanced back at him once more. "I can't climb the ladder," she said and backed up. It would be up to D'Argo to find out what the cockpit hid.

The Luxan nodded, handed his Qualta blade to her, grabbed the rungs of the ladder and climbed briskly to the top.

Aeryn watched him from the floor, her pulse pistol aimed at the rim of the cockpit just in case. "D'Argo," she said when the Luxan froze and didn't move for a moment. "D'Argo," she repeated when he made no move to respond.

"It's John," he said, his tone of voice low and very strained. He reached into the cockpit and fumbled for a moment before dragging a limp form from the confines. Loading John carefully over one shoulder, he then descended the ladder as quickly as his added burden allowed for.

***

As Jool was the only one with any type of medical knowledge now that Zhaan was gone and Stark was off looking for her spirit, she was the one to take a look at John once they had gotten him to the med bay. She stared at him for a long moment, taking in the more obvious of his injuries, which didn't make a whole lot of sense to her, then she grabbed the scanner and ran it over the full length of his body. "Well, he's unconscious," she finally stated.

D'Argo snorted. "You think?" he asked sarcastically.

"Do you want to do this?" she snapped back, angry at his disregard for her abilities.

"Stop it. Both of you," Aeryn inserted and turned her attention to Jool. "Is there any internal damage?" she wanted to know.

Jool made a face, then looked over at the bio-print the scanner was showing her. She studied it for a few microts, then sighed heavily. "I don't know," she complained. "I am not a med tech. And I don't know what's normal for his species. I have no idea what I'm looking at." Running the scanner over him again, she eyed the bio-print again. "I studied xenobiology, but there was nothing like him among it."

"You are a biological match to his species. You must recognize some of it. Do you see anything abnormal?" Aeryn asked again and glanced down at John. He was awfully pale and it looked to her as if his ears had been bleeding.

"I don't know," Jool repeated, her tone of voice a tad frantic. Then she suddenly stopped the scanner and ran it upwards again. "Hello," she exclaimed. "That's not normal."

"What isn't?" Aeryn asked, glancing over at the bio-print.

"There's something stuck in his neck," Jool said, pointing to the bio-print. "As I said, I don't know what's normal for his species, but that's definitely not a part of his anatomy," she added.

"Are you certain?" D'Argo asked, not sure what he was looking at.

"Yes, of course I am certain," Jool hissed.

"Can we get it out?" Aeryn asked.

"No," Jool said. "Not without proper medical help. It seems to be fused onto his spin," she added with a frown.

Aeryn regarded the bio-print for a moment longer, not happy about that. Then she made a waving motion at it. "What is all that black stuff?" she asked.

"I don't know. It might be normal for him," Jool replied, frowning at the black tendrils permeating his entire body. "It seems to be only in the muscular tissue, though. Might be fibers or something."

With a shake of the head, Aeryn turned back to John. "Why is he unconscious?" she asked on, feeling the distinct need to shake him awake. She wasn't so sure it would work, though. He had been jostled quite a lot when D'Argo had carried him to medical and if that didn't wake him up, nothing would.

"I don't know," Jool replied tersely. "I am not a med tech, okay? I have no idea why he is unconscious. It could be a whole lot of things. Like the fact that he's dehydrated. Or hasn't eaten anything in a good long while. Or maybe it's because his ear drums have ruptured. How should I know?"

Aeryn smiled. Poke the girl and she would come up with the answers out of spite. "Let's get some water into him," she said, then turned her attention back to Jool. "Is there anything in the supplies which would help him retain moisture right now?" she asked.

Jool made a face. "Yes, there's plenty," she replied and grabbed an assortment of various bottles and glasses. "This is the best, I think," she added, handing over a bottle with a pinkish liquid in it.

***

After making sure her patient was comfortable and well taken care of, Jool returned to her quarters to catch up on her sleep. It took half an arn for the rest of them to follow her example except for Aeryn. She refused to leave John's side and settled down on the edge of the table. Once she knew she was alone with him, she allowed herself to lower her defenses.

Leaning in close, she kissed his brow, concern lacing through her like an electric current. "John?" she whispered. "Wake up."

She nestled against him, longing the feel his warmth again, to know he was with her and alive. But he didn't respond to her presence, didn't even twitch, which left her feeling unfulfilled and afraid.

***

He could feel himself surfacing, coming back to the place where he knew he would feel pain, and he struggled against it at first. But he couldn't stop it, couldn't remain in the blissful darkness, where nothing hurt and nothing bothered him.

Eventually, his consciousness swam back to the surface, though, and he broke through to the real world, every sensation of his battered body hitting him at once. He was just too damned worn out to respond to it in any way. Slowly, he opened his eyes and blinked a few times to clear his vision. And his first thought was that either he had shrunk or the canopy of the prowler had moved away from him. He had the feeling of space around him and that sensation was followed immediately by the realization that he was lying down, not sitting up. His senses seemed to kick in one at a time and the next thing his tired, mutilated mind registered was the sensation of something heavy pressing down on his chest.

Before he could determine what it was, though, it disappeared and then something touched his cheek very lightly. "John?"

He heard that voice as if it came from miles away, but he recognized it. He would recognize it anywhere. Shifting his gaze, he caught sight of her leaning over him. Aeryn. He had come to love the ring of that name, the feel of her body, the sound of her voice. But it couldn't be her. The last he remembered was the realization that he would die in the void of space, all alone except for the company of that damned neural clone, who wouldn't leave him alone even when he was that close to the edge. To find her leaning over him could mean only one thing and it broke his heart. "D'you die, too?" he whispered, his voice almost none-existent.

Aeryn frowned a little, briefly trying to decipher what he had said, then she closed her eyes for a second and smiled. "No. I'm not dead. And neither are you," she told him.

He blinked, his mind too sluggish to comprehend what she had said at once. Then he blinked again and slowly let his gaze drift, the sensation of dizziness coming upon him again because he merely shifted his eyes. "Where am I?" he managed, not sure he wanted to know.

She caressed his cheek, brushing strong, sensuous fingers over the stubble there. "On Moya," she replied.

He looked back up at her. "Home," he whispered. There was something so relaxing about that knowledge that he simply gave in to the fatigue and slipped back into darkness.

Aeryn watched him drift off again and smiled sadly. "Yes, home," she agreed quietly and kissed his brow again.

***