For a reason John could not readily explain to himself, the bank of elevators B twelve in all B looked a bit scary from where he stood. In essence he felt like he was standing in a big corporate building back on Earth, ready to ride the elevator up to the corporate level. Only they wouldn't be going up. They would be going down into the bowls of this rock, and there was no telling what was waiting for them down there.

Aeryn interrupted his thoughts when she jabbed the heel of one hand against the back of his shoulder, nearly pushing him a step forward. "Let's go," she said and strode over to the call button.

A split second later, all twelve doors opened, but only one of the elevators had light. "I say we take the one with the light," he suggested, attempting to be cheery to cover up this blooming nervousness that was spreading through him like a fever.

Aeryn checked the cabin out while holding the door, then waved him over. "It goes to the bottom," she stated and stepped inside.

"Oh goody," John muttered and entered the cabin too. It was big, appeared more like a hospital elevator, and he assumed it was because it needed to transport equipment. "How steady do you think this bucket is?" he asked and glanced at Aeryn.

"It's a freight level riser. It's supposed to carry a lot more weight than us," she countered and pressed the appropriate button for the bottom levels.

The doors closed and the cabin started moving. After about a minute, the lights flickered and died. "Uh‑oh," John muttered and blinked into the now complete darkness. The cabin was still moving.

"I guess it was only a matter of time before the light in this one died as well. All the others were dark too," Aeryn countered and she didn't sound very concerned.

"What if there's no light down there either?" John asked, wondering what exactly they would do if they couldn't see squat.

"Then we go back up and find some portable lights we can take with us," Aeryn said, ever practical in situations like this.

"Good idea. Can you see the buttons?" he asked, wanting to prove a point.

"No, but I know approximately where they are," she said. "Are you afraid of the dark?"

"Like a little kid," he confirmed.

The cabin came to a stop and the doors parted. Immediately the cabin was flooded with light. John blinked a little, adjusting his eyes to the sudden brightness, and then glanced at Aeryn, who gave him a look he knew all too well. "Yeah, yeah, yeah, I know. I worry too much," he said, knowing very well what she was going to say.

"I didn't say anything," she claimed and stepped out into the corridor.

"You don't have to. I know what you're thinking," he countered a tad grumpily and followed her.

The corridor they had stepped into was very wide and ended abruptly on the left side while it seemed to trail off into the distance on the right side. "You could race stockcars down here," he stated.

"Stockcars?" Aeryn asked with a frown.

"Never mind," he countered. It would take too long to get into and she wouldn't care in the end anyway. So why bother? "So, what way's the food?"

Aeryn checked the portable floorplan, then made a face. "What way do you think?" she countered and nodded toward the right side of the corridor.

"Oh, funny," he replied and gave her a snide grin. "How far is it?"

"Why? Are you getting tired?" Aeryn asked back and gave him a pretty good imitation of his smile.

"No. I'm just curious," he said and started walking. "Nice, deserted place, isn't it?"

Aeryn caught up to him and fell in step beside him. "What exactly did you see on that viewscreen?" she asked.

He frowned. "What viewscreen?"

"The one in the reception area. Before you came down to join me. You freaked out over something on that screen," she said without taking her eyes off the corridor.

The memory popped up in his mind again. "Oh, that viewscreen," he muttered. "I don't know what I saw," he added.

Aeryn stopped in front of a door with an odd mark on it. She double‑checked the floorplan. "This should be it," she said, then glanced back at him. "You must have an idea of what you saw. Why else would you have yelled at me to stop?" She pressed the door opener and the door slid into the wall, revealing a rather large storage room behind it.

"Food enough for a couple of cycles, eh?" he asked and stepped inside. "Wow. That's a lot of food. Even Rygel couldn't chew his way through all this."

Aeryn grinned while she glanced around. "There's a hover cart over there. Let's start loading," she suggested.

John started going through the shelves, looking through the contents stacked there. "About what I saw on that screen, I don't know how to describe it. It just looked like ... I don't know ... darkness. Suddenly half the mess hall was obscured by darkness. And for a second I thought I saw ..."

Aeryn pushed the hover cart up beside him, grabbed an armful of something John had learned to identify as a sort of flour, and placed it on the cart. "You saw what?" she asked.

"Eyes," he said thoughtfully. "Big, bulging, red eyes." He shrugged, grabbed an armful of grolash‑ingredients and dumped them on the cart as well. "For a split second, uh, microt, and then they were gone and the darkness was gone and ... I think I imagined it."

Aeryn grabbed some more boxes and placed them on the cart, then pushed it forward a bit. "While I was waiting for you, I had the distinct feeling of being watched," she said and pursed her lips, pausing briefly before grabbing the next load. "It's almost an instinct. It's part of Peacekeeper training to know when you're being watched, even if it's through cameras. And there was definitely something watching me while you were on the way down. So it can't have been you."

Involuntarily, John shuddered. "Ick," he said and smirked halfheartedly. "Honestly, I think this place is getting to us. It's supposed to be teeming with people and there's nobody here. Back home, we had this house in the neighborhood that was empty and had been empty for quite a while. It was spooky even though it wasn't that old. When I was a kid, it was a big game to go in there on a dare. I was scared shitless, but I did it anyway. And I thought I saw and heard things that couldn't possibly have been there."

"So it's just our imagination?" Aeryn asked and pushed the cart a little further to get at the next load.

"Yeah, I think so. I mean, what else would it be, right? You don't believe in ghosts and B despite all I've seen out here B I don't believe in ghosts either. So it has to be ... nerves. Imagination. Whatever you want to call it."

Aeryn loaded another stack of boxes onto the cart and then eyed it thoughtfully. It was sagging a little. "I'll take this one upstairs and unload it. See if you can find another hover cart and start loading onto that. I'll be back as fast as I can," she said, grabbed the handle and started pulling it toward the open door.

John just stood there for a moment, uncertain of whether he liked this idea or not, then shrugged and went in search of another cart. He was the one who'd just made the big speech about this being their imagination. He was not going to admit to fear after that.


Aeryn reached the ground level faster than it had taken to get down to the sub levels and it puzzled her a little. But she did not waste too much thought on it. Instead she hauled the hover cart along toward the exit and the place where the pod was waiting for them.

As she passed through the reception area, she glanced at the round reception desk and stopped. It might be interesting to see what John was doing while she wasn't around. With a slight smile on her lips, she parked the hover cart and stepped into the ring reception desk to flip through the various views until she found the one showing John. He was searching through the storage room and found a second hover cart, which he dragged back to where they had stopped loading the first one and started loading stuff onto it.

"Very dedicated to his work," she mused aloud and smiled. "As I should be," she added thoughtfully, then frowned. "Since when have I started talking to myself?" she muttered, then shrugged and left the reception desk behind. The portable floorplan was lying on top of some of the boxes on the cart and just when she got there, she thought she saw another flash of enormous activity on the lower levels. For a microt the lower levels were lit up with green moving dots and they were still all headed in the same direction B namely toward the bank of level risers they had used to get down there. In the next microt, the activity was gone and the only green dot moving down there was John. "Must be a glitch in the system," she muttered, shook her head and hauled the cart on toward the exit. She had to admit that it did worry her a little, but since she didn't know what to do with that worry, she pushed it aside and moved on.


John loaded the next batch of boxes onto the second hover cart and yawned heartily. "Damn, this is ..." he began, but trailed off suddenly. With a light frown on his brow, he listened to his surroundings. Then he made a face. "Imagining things again, eh?" he asked himself, shook his head and continued loading. "Sheesh," he muttered. "Like I don't have enough trouble already. No, I have to go and get scared of my own shadow down here in the bowls of an unfamiliar station out in the middle of nowhere ... with nobody around but me, myself and I. And Aeryn, of course. Who's about two miles above me with nothing but solid rock and loads of empty levels between us."

He picked up another stack of boxes, which he had estimated to be heavier than they were. Due to that, he managed to spill about half of them onto the floor and they made a deafening racket in the process. "Shit," he grumbled, put the ones he'd managed to hold onto on the cart and squatted down to retrieve the rest. His fingers had barely closed around the first of the spilled boxes when he heard that sound again. Looking up, he looked over the cart toward the door which was still open. "Me, myself and I," he muttered and rose, cocking his head to one side to listen better.

There it was again. Something was dripping; slowly, but methodically. "Water?" he asked himself, then tapped the comm badge. "Aeryn?"

"What?" came the instant reply.

"I can hear water dripping somewhere out in the corridor. Maybe I should check it out? Just in case. We don't wanna get flooded down here," he said.

"Water?" she countered, her voice a little distorted through the tiny speaker.

"Yeah, I think so," he agreed.

"Be careful and keep the comms open," she said.

"Got it. How're you doing up there?" he asked as he pushed past the cart and strode out the door. The dripping could only come from one direction and that was left and around the corner down at the end.

"I've just reached the pod. I'll just unload and then I'm coming back down," she replied.

"Okay. I'm just gonna go check this out," he said and started down the corridor. This was not the time to throw caution to the wind, so he moved slowly, his right hand resting on the butt of his pulse pistol.

The corridor was longer than he had anticipated. With the width and the length of it being as extreme as it was, it caused obvious distortions of distance. When he reached the corner and stepped around it, the sight that met him made him stop short. The corridor beyond seemed flooded as far as the eye could see. But there was no big leak anywhere, only a small patch of waterlogged ceiling, where a single drop was hanging on precariously before falling into the puddle below.

He looked down into the puddle, then glanced back up at the ceiling. Then he frowned and looked back down at the puddle. There were two things about this water‑damage that bothered him. Number one was the fact that the corridor seemed level to him, but the water had stopped just short of the bend, but seemed to spread all the way down to the other end. The other thing was a little weirder and thought‑provoking. "Aeryn?" he asked.

"Yes?" came the reply. She sounded a little out of breath; probably from all the lifting.

"I found the leak," he said and eyed the puddle for a moment, then leaned a little forward. He had stopped just at the edge of it and something held him back from stepping into the water.

"Is it bad?" Aeryn asked.

"Well, both yes and no," he replied and sent another glance up at the ceiling before returning his attention to the mirror surface of the puddle. "No big leak, but loads of water. Or whatever the hell this is."

"What do you mean?" she asked.

"It's not reflec ..." he started, but trailed off. "Uh ... are there any liquids out here that aren't reflective?"

Aeryn remained silent for a moment.

"Aeryn?" he asked, hoping she hadn't disappeared or something.

"None that I can think of. Why?" she finally responded.

He eyed the surface for a moment. "Because this ... water or whatever it is, is reflecting the corridor but not me."

"What do you mean, it's not reflecting you?" she asked.

"Just what I said. I can see the corridor and the ceiling and the lights, but I can't see myself." The thoughts this realization created in his head were not good ones and he pulled back suddenly, feeling very much out of place all of a sudden.

"Never mind that, John. Go back and keep loading that hover cart. I'll be right down and we can fill up the other one and get the frell off this rock," she said, her tone a bit tense.

"Copy that," he replied and hurried back the way he'd come. "This place is getting creepier by the minute here," he added.

"Agreed. Just don't ..." she started to reply, but then the comm badge fell silent.

John stopped, a few steps short of the open door to the storage room. "Aeryn?" he called, but the comm badge remained silent. "Oh crap," he muttered and closed the distance to the open door. "This I don't like. Na‑ah. Not one bit." He stepped inside and hurried back to the cart.

"Keep loading, she says. Yeah, I'll keep loading," he muttered and returned to the task at hand. First he picked up all the boxes he'd dropped. Then he grabbed the next stack and put it on the cart and then moved the cart a little further down the line. "This is one hell of a way to go shopping," he continued his lonely narrative. The sound of his own voice soothed his jittery nerves a little.

"Shopping? Hah! Stealing is more like it. Someone's gonna mind. I just know it. We'll end up in prison for shoplifting. I wonder what PKs do to people who shoplift. Ten to life, I'd guess. It's not like they seem to have any lenient sentences. And all this?" he continued, waving a hand at the already packed cart. "They'll probably shoot us for this. If this is a PK facility, of course. Aeryn doesn't seem to think so. She seems to think ..." He stopped dead, his gaze snapping up to the door.

There was a new sound out there and it made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on edge. Something very big had started roaring down the corridor. It sounded a bit like a ten ton bear to him and the mental image that produced was actually quite funny. But then it roared again and the pitch had dropped enough for him to worry deeply about his mental health, because that just sounded too damned scary to be anything as recognizable as a bear; even if it was a ten‑ton version.

With his heart suddenly beating up a storm in his throat, he leapt over the cart and ran back to the door where he slammed the heel of his hand into the door opener, thereby activating the closing‑cycle. He fiddled with the controls for a moment and finally managed to lock it. And just in time. Because right that second the lights flickered and died.

He had never actually been afraid of the dark, not even as a child, but he sure as hell was now. His lips had turned bone dry and his fingers had gone numb with the icy cold of deadly fear. Whatever was out there had started banging on the walls and it was definitely coming closer. And with every step it took, the floor beneath his feet shuddered. Just then, his comm badge erupted with static and he feverishly fumbled with it for a moment to shut it off. "Oh shit," he whispered hoarsely, felt along the wall to the closest corner and pressed his back into it.

The pounding out there grew louder and the roaring added to the shivers running through the floor. He could feel the heaviness of the beast out there, could almost smell its breath, and at that point his mind took leave of any sensible thought and plummeted him into his basic instincts, which bade him to hide and be quite.

Sinking down into a crouch in the corner, he squeezed his eyes shut and covered his ears with his hands, trying desperately not to make a sound while attempting in vain to block out the horrifying noises from out there. And then the pounding stopped. The silence lasted long enough for him to carefully lower his hands a little, but then the thing out there started to sniff at the door. It was right outside and it made him fight to suppress a whimper of fear as he pressed his hands back over his ears. There was absolutely no conscious thoughts connected with his actions any more. He was scared out of his mind and that was all he could respond to.

And then the pounding started again; angrily, heavily, with enough force to make the wall he was leaning against shudder dangerously. He clenched his teeth together and forced himself to be quiet. Most of all he wanted to get up and run away screaming, but he wouldn't be able to see where he went and if he moved, he was certain that thing out there would know it.

The pounding went on for a long time until it suddenly stopped again. But he wasn't fooled this time. Instead he pressed his face against his knees and stopped moving all together. At least until something grabbed his wrists. Despite any previous reassurances he had given Aeryn and himself that he didn't believe in ghosts, he couldn't stop the terrified scream from getting past his lips as he raised his head and opened his eyes ...

... only to find Aeryn crouching in front of him, her hands wrapped around his wrists. He froze, barely able to breathe.

"John?" she asked, her expression one of deep concern. "What the frell is going on?"

He drew in a shuddering breath, then glanced toward the open door and the lights in the corridor beyond. The light in the storage room had come back on as well. This situation was so bizarre, all he could do was to start laughing.

"Why did you close the door and turn off the light?" Aeryn demanded. She released his wrists and rose, looking down at him with more than concern now. There was a bit of annoyance in her expression as well.

"I didn't. They went off by themselves," he whispered hoarsely and struggled back to his feet. Then he started laughing again.

"Stop laughing. What the frell is going on? If you think it's so funny, why the frell did you scream when I touched you?"

Aeryn was at a loss, no doubt about that, which again meant that she hadn't seen or heard anything. John got his laughing fit under control and ran a shivering hand through his hair. "I'm losing my mind," he stated quietly. "I ... this place is messing with my head. I need to get out of here."

"There is nothing here messing with your head, John. All there is is your imagination and that's been very vivid for as long as I've known you," Aeryn countered. "Now, what the frell happened?"

He shook his head. What was the sense in trying to explain something she hadn't noticed? "Never mind. Let's just load up whatever we can and get the hell out of here," he said, pushed past her on shaky legs and hurried down to the cart again.

Aeryn was watching him with concern; he knew that. But there was nothing he could do about that now. This place was messed up in some way and the sooner they got out the better they'd be off.


With a combined effort they stacked everything they could think of onto the two hover carts and then pulled them out into the corridor and over to the level risers. "There are still some things we could use," Aeryn said, sending a thoughtful glance back toward the still open door to the storage room.

"Yeah, and there's a good chance that we'll get run over by a monster of some kind if we stick around here much longer," John countered while nervously keeping his eyes on the bend of the corridor further down.

Aeryn frowned lightly. "A monster?" she asked. "Is that what you saw?"

He snorted, a halfhearted attempt at a smile tugging at the corners of his lips. "I didn't see anything," he claimed and pressed the call button for the level risers.

"Alright," Aeryn countered, a little concerned about his somewhat standoffish behavior. "You can't blame me for being curious, though."

"I don't," he muttered while alternating between watching the doors of the level risers and the bend of the corridor. "I know I should be used to seeing things by now, but ..."

It was Aeryn's opinion at this point that he was either embarrassed or scared out of his mind. Either way, he was going to be a tad unreasonable until they were out of here. "Never mind," she said and shrugged indifferently. "It doesn't matter. All that matters is that we get the frell off this rock. I have had enough of B what was it you called it? B steady ground under my feet?"

"Firm ground," he corrected her and pushed the first cart into the dark cabin of the nearest level riser when the doors parted. "And it's not the ground I have a problem with," he added and stepped aside when she pushed the other cart into the cabin next to his. "It's this place. It's not ..." He trailed off.

"It's not right?" she asked and he nodded almost curtly. "I agree," she said, well aware that he did not expect her to agree with him on this. It showed on his face instantly that he was surprised. She pressed the button for the upper levels and the cabin was plunged into complete darkness. "There's something frelled about this place."

John remained silent and still for the ride and that alone told Aeryn all she needed to know about his state of mind. Whatever he had seen down there while he had been alone in the dark, it had left a lasting impression on him that even Scorpius could not compete with. She hadn't found him cramped into a corner, screaming at shadows even at the peek of the neural clone's influence and the fact that even a quarter of an arn alone in the dark had managed to rattle him badly made her concern rise to new levels.

"So ... where do we go from here?" she asked after a moment.

"Back to Moya," he countered, his tone forcibly even. "The sooner the better. I'm having a major anxiety attack here."

"What? Right now?" she asked and edged closer to him. Why the frell was it taking so long to reach to ground level? The thought had barely formed before the doors opened and the light from the ground floor spilled into the cabin, showing her that he did not need to answer that question. He was pale as a Nebari, sweating, and B from the looks of it B he had been wringing his hands until now. Curiosity was overrun by deep‑rooted concern instantly. "What the frell did you see down there?" she demanded.

He glanced at her, mopped one arm over his face to get rid of the excess moisture, and then pushed the first cart out of the cabin without replying. She knew what his answer would be anyway. He had seen nothing down there. But he had experienced something that had set him off and she would be frelled if she would leave it at that.

"John!" she snapped, bringing him to a full stop just with the tone of her voice. "Talk to me," she added more softly.

"Nothing to talk about," he stated, grabbed out for the second cart and dragged that out of the cabin as well. "Just leave it, Aeryn," he added with a warning note in his voice when she opened her mouth to object.

She followed him out of the cabin and took over the second cart without a word. John's attention immediately swung around to the reception area and the flickering view screens showing every aspect of the facility. His attitude was definitely one of nervousness right now.

"Let's just get the frell back to Moya," Aeryn finally said and started pushing her cart toward the exit while John lingered behind, his attention caught by the screens. She in turn kept her attention on him until the cart rather unceremoniously bumped into something. A little stunned, she turned her attention forward and stared at the glass barrier in front of her. Then she made a face. "Dren. We must have turned the wrong way when we left the level risers," she stated and turned back toward John, who was still staring at the screens.

"Why?" he asked without looking in her direction.

"Because there's no frelling door here," she countered.

John froze, then turned around to face her and the unbroken glass wall beyond her. "Oh shit," he muttered and ran the tip of his tongue over suddenly dry lips.

"There has to be another reception area in the opposite direction," she said, not wanting to give in to the tugging feeling of discomfort his reaction brought up in her.

"No, there isn't," he disagreed. "There's only one reception area and this is it." Making a sweeping gesture toward the solid glass wall behind her, he made a face. "After all, why the hell would anybody put a reception area here if there wasn't a door? That makes no sense."

"Like a lot of things in this frelled‑up place," she agreed and glanced back at the wall. There was nothing outside, just a rather spectacular view of the landscape B denches below. "This can't be the right place, John. The pod was parked just out there," she added and waved a hand back at the non‑existent landing pad.

"It's the right place. Something here just doesn't want us to leave," he claimed.

Aeryn refrained from sighing and settled for rolling her eyes instead. "You cannot expect me to believe that a goost can do this sort of thing," she stated, trying to convince herself as much as she was trying to convince him.

"Ghost," he corrected her irritably, "and I don't think a ghost did this, Aeryn. I don't know what the hell is wrong with this place, but it's big. It's big enough to have ... I don't know ... killed the entire staff here. It's ... in the darkness somehow. Hiding. Waiting."

With a light snort, she propped her hands on her hips. "Are you listening to yourself right now?" she asked. "What a stack of dren. There is nothing wrong with this place apart from it being empty. There's ..."

A loud, screeching sound rudely interrupted her. It sounded like metal grinding against metal and off hand it made no sense, because nothing seemed to be wrong where they were standing. But then she realized that the sound was coming from hidden speakers somewhere.

They both covered their ears and Aeryn ran over to the reception desk and quickly scanned the various dials and buttons in search of something that could shut the speaker system off. She found it and slammed a flat hand onto the button and the sound was cut off in mid‑screech.

John just stood there and stared at her, his hands still covering his ears for a moment longer. Then he lowered them slowly. "What the hell was that?" he asked quietly.

Aeryn ignored him and turned her attention to the screens and started flipping through the various views of the various levels. Everything below their level had gone dark. Not a single camera was able to penetrate the total blackness on the sub‑levels.

"What the hell was that?" John repeated a little louder.

"I don't know," she snapped, a little aggravated right now. The sound had been nearly painful to her ears and that along with the growing fear this abnormal blackout was causing made her irritable. "There's nothing showing up anywhere. Everything looks fine," she added, not willing to let him know that the darkness on some of the screens scared her.

He stepped into the ring desk too and frowned at the displayed rooms. "Then how do you explain that sound?" he asked after a moment. She had wisely switched away from any darkened views.

"I don't. It's not my job to explain anything about this frelling facility. All I need to know is where the next exit it," she countered a little angrily and pushed past him to get back to the portable floor plan that was lying on top of the boxes on the closest cart.

John stepped back out of the ring, still frowning. "I wasn't suggesting that it was your job to ..." he began, but trailed off when she raised a hand. "What is it?"

Aeryn stared at the floor plan with a strangely surging feeling in her stomach. There was definitely something wrong with this place and even though it wasn't her job to explain it, she knew without the shadow of a doubt that this would be harmful to both of them if she didn't find a way out of this.

"Aeryn?" John insisted.

"The lower levels have come alive again," she finally said and looked up to briefly meet his eyes. Then she shifted her attention to the level risers. "And whatever it is, it's on the way up," she added.

John turned his attention to the level risers as well. All twelve of them had been recalled to the sub‑levels and all twelve, like clockwork, were on their way back up. "Oh crap," he nearly whispered.

Aeryn decided that she'd rather run first and ask questions later. Whatever the frell this was, there were too many of them for her to shoot. There was no way in Hezmana that they would come out alive on the other side of this and whatever it was that convinced her that the green dots on the level risers weren't friendly was beyond her at this point. She was too much the soldier to bother about thinking this through. "We need to go. Now!" she demanded, strode over to John, grabbed his arm and dragged him along with her down a side corridor away from the level risers.

"Where can we go? It's not like this ... whatever the hell it is ... is going to let us out of here," he claimed, doing his best to keep up with her while she wove her way through endless‑seeming corridors in search of a place to hide.

"Stop thinking," she demanded. "Focus on running."

He shut up after this and made no comment when she opened a door and shoved him into the tight enclosure of a utility closet. She followed him in, then closed and sealed the door.

"Why here?" he asked after a moment.

"Because it's defendable," she countered and nodded toward the air vent at the top of the back wall. "Too small for anything significant to come through, and the door is solid and seals effectively," she added.

He nodded and shifted a little closer to the rear wall. "This is so messed up," he muttered with a half‑attempted smile.

Aeryn opened her mouth to respond, but stopped short at the sound that reached her ears from beyond the door. A quick glance down at the floor plan told her that the green dots were currently surging out of the level risers and spreading out over the reception area like liquid. And whatever the dots represented, it was making a sound; a bone‑chilling sound; like wind blowing through cracked walls, like the last breath escaping the dying, and somehow Aeryn knew that her weapons would do her no good here. Uncommonly scared, she drew back until she bumped into John and felt his arms go around her. They just stood there in the utility closet, listening to this unholy sound, and all she could do was hope that whatever was out there didn't find them.