Aeryn had her suspicions, but had put them on hold because he made sense. But seeing what she saw now as she edged closer to him, made her wonder what the frell was going on in this place. There were definite indents after fingers on his arm, like someone invisible was holding onto him, and the fact that he had gone pale as Nebari and was sweating too proved to her that this wasn't a game. He wasn't trying to be funny, he was scared drenless.

Shouldering the rifle, she reached a hand out toward him, intent on feeling whatever it was, but the microt she got close the indents disappeared and he let out an almost explosive breath.

She made a face and still stared at his arm. "This is not frelling normal," she growled, then turned to the still cowering female in the far corner. "What the frell is going on here? And don't frelling tell me you don't know. You've worked here. You were part of this outfit."

Veena swallowed and finally managed to peel herself out of the corner she had squeezed herself into. She still looked shaken and kept glancing nervously at the door. "I told you before and I'll tell you again. I don't know. I was just a lowly tech. I was not privy to any special information. Most of us weren't. Whatever the frell this thing is, it attacked and killed all my friends and colleagues and stranded me here for a frelling cycle."

Her words made sense, her state of mind fit, and in general Aeryn knew she should trust her, but there was something about this female she didn't like. And then there was John's off‑key behavior, his extensive fear which was not part of who he was. He might be afraid, but he usually did his best to cover it up. This time around, he wasn't even trying and it was grating on her nerves that he seemed to realize this and still did nothing about it.

She glanced at him, then back at Veena, and tried to subdue the concerns she felt at this point, but no matter how hard she tried, she was incapable of killing the unrest in herself. If Veena was to be believed, then it was possible that John was infected by whatever this dren was. If he was, she had no idea how to cure him. This thing had eradicated an entire mining camp without being stopped and she was no science wiz.

Uncertain about how to proceed, she took a step back. If this dren infected through touch, then she was infected too. But she didn't feel anything wrong about herself. John was the one acting out of character. Veena was hard to place because she didn't know how she had been before all this had happened.

"If this ... whatever it is infects people, then both of you could be infected by now," she stated and took another step back. John looked stricken by her verdict, Veena looked annoyed. "You were not this scared from the beginning, John, which leads me to believe that something happened to you here that you just don't remember. You were alone for a while before we joined up downstairs. You've been in a situation like this before. You had no recollection of Scorpius putting that frelling chip in your head until it tried to take over. So just because you don't remember it doesn't mean it didn't happen. And I've never known you to be this scared before without being able to control it." He opened his mouth to object, but Aeryn raised a hand, warding him off for now. "And you," she added and turned her attention to Veena. "We don't know you. We don't know what you were like before this happened. As a matter of fact, it's quite likely that you're infected."

"That's a stack of dren," Veena snapped. "If I was, I would be dead. I've been here alone for nearly a cycle. This dren kills, Sun. It doesn't leave you alive. If it did, others would be around too. But it so happens that I'm the only one who made it this far."

John looked unhappy, but at least he wasn't putting up a fight right now. "Aeryn may have a point. I don't feel any different than normal except that I'm a hell of a lot more scared than I've ever been before. Considering what I've been through over the past many cycles, that's saying something," he said and turned his attention to Veena as well. "I believe you when you say you're not infected. But you must know what happens. I mean, if I was infected, wouldn't it have ... whatever it does by now?"

Veena looked a little uncertain. "I don't know," she confessed. "I avoided the others if I thought they were infected. All I know is that this stuff got to them and they disappeared. I don't know if they ... walked around with the infection."

"So, essentially it could go either way," Aeryn said and eyed them both for a moment. "I'm going to believe the sensible side of this. Neither of you is infected and we're getting the frell out of here. And I won't hear any argument about it."

She knew she was taking a risk and she also knew that if either of them showed any signs of infection once they were away from this place, she would have to deal with it accordingly. What was foremost on her mind was the thought of what suspicion could do to them. If they all suspected each other of infection, none of them would leave here alive. Any indication of suspicion, even in herself, would have to be squashed immediately.

Without further ado, she strode over to the door and slapped a flat hand against the door opener. The door whooshed open, revealing an empty corridor beyond. "Let's go," she said and stepped out into the corridor.


John followed Aeryn's lead willingly, but Veena was a little more cautious. She grabbed his arm and yanked him back a step, then leaned in close. "Is she always this way?" she asked so quietly, Aeryn couldn't possibly hear her.

With a sideways glance at this new player, he made a face. "Actually yes," he replied. "Aeryn's the only one of the two of us behaving normally."

Veena sneered. "How the frell did you end up with a Peacekeeper? From what I hear they're incorruptible."

That brought a much needed smile to his lips. "Well, then I've done the impossible, because I sure corrupted her," he countered quietly. He lengthened his stride to keep up with Aeryn and Veena adjusted her own stride to match his.

"Are you sure she's not behaving oddly?" she asked anxiously.

"Nope, she's just as she should be," he replied, shook off Veena's hand from his arm and fell in step next to Aeryn. "Where to, oh fearless leader?" he asked.

Aeryn glanced at him and he thought he saw the beginnings of a smile on her lips. "I don't frelling know, do I? I'm making this up as I go along," she countered and upped the pace a little.

John kept up with her and only occasionally glanced back to make sure Veena was still with them. The other woman was following them closely, but she didn't look happy about this. She looked concerned and annoyed at the same time.

The concern he could understand. He felt it ten‑fold. But the annoyance made him wonder a bit. What was she so annoyed about? That Aeryn had taken control? That he didn't choose sides? Whatever it was, it struck him as a bit off. If they made it out of here in one piece, he would have to ask her about it. Maybe she would be more open to telling the truth if her life was no longer at stake.

With that settled in his own mind, he returned his attention to the facility around them. This place was the wackiest place he'd ever heard about and a part of him figured it could make a good horror movie. "Cheap b‑movie," he muttered.

"What?" Aeryn asked.

"Nothing," he countered with a light sigh.

They rounded another corner and came back into the reception area. The last hover cart was still sitting there and the doors were there too. Aeryn didn't even stop to think. She strode right toward the doors and grabbed a hold of his arm, dragging him along.

"Veena, come on," John called over one shoulder, reaching a hand back to her.

She rushed forward and grabbed his hand and in essence they should have been able to get out. The doors parted when they approached and the thin night air of the planetoid rushed in, brushing over them.

What happened next was something he would never be able to put into words, because it just totally made no sense. One moment they were walking forward through the doors, the next he was holding onto Aeryn's hand for dear life, trying to stop her from tumbling into the gaping abyss that had opened up right in front of the doors. Their escape had been stopped by a rift in the ground that separated them from the pod more effectively than anything else ever could have.

Since Veena would not let go of his other hand, he had only one hand to hold Aeryn with while he tried to shake Veena off the other. Aeryn had locked both hands around his and she hadn't even yelped when she went over the edge, but she looked plenty scared. The pulse rifle was gone, had tumbled down into the depth, and wether this was real or make believe, it felt too damned real to be anything other.

"Veena, let go of my damned hand," John yelled. The light breeze outside intensified, growing stronger by the second, and if this kept up all three of them would be swept into the abyss.

His left arm was beginning to hurt a bit and his knees started to shake with the exertion of keeping Aeryn with him. He didn't dare tug at his right hand because it might overbalance him and send him headlong into the abyss with Aeryn if Veena decided to let go then.

"LET GO!" he roared and Veena, who looked utterly shaken, finally seemed to see the light and let go of his hand.

To his immediate concern, the loss of her support nearly did what he feared a tug would have done and if it hadn't been for Veena's quick response to grab onto his belt and tug backwards, he would have gone over the edge with Aeryn. Instead he was able to lock both hands around Aeryn's hands and pull her to safety.

They toppled backwards and Aeryn landed on top of him as the doors slid shut and the abyss disappeared again.

Breathing hard, they just lay there for a moment while John blessed whatever deity he could think of for their good fortune in this moment of disaster. "Jeez, if this keeps up I'm gonna find religion," he finally managed and pushed himself up on his elbows.

Aeryn, who'd had her face buried against his chest, raised her head and stared at him. "For an illusion that felt very real," she said, visibly shaken.

John nodded. "Yup, which makes me think it wasn't an illusion at all. But then again, what else could it be?"

"Everything it shows you is real," Veena interjected. She had hunkered down a few steps back, just as out of breath as they were. "Everything."

"That's not possible," Aeryn claimed and got up. John followed suit, but he didn't really agree with her. Out here, anything seemed to be possible.

"Yes, it is. I've seen gaps open up and swallow people and they never returned. They died. This ... entity has the ability to influence solid material," Veena countered.

John closed his eyes. "Man, I do hate god‑like aliens," he muttered and shook his head.

Aeryn gave him a strange look, but said nothing about that. Instead she turned back to the doors and took a cautious step toward them. They slid apart again and the abyss opened up like a waiting maw of some huge monster that was hiding under the ground, ready to devour them.

She remained motionless for a moment while the wind picked up again, growing stronger by the second, then she stepped back again and let both doors and abyss close again. "What the frell is this all about?" she muttered.

John had no answers for her and instead glanced back at Veena, who was still crouching on the floor, her head down. "We'll never get out of here, will we?" He couldn't help asking that question, no matter how much it went against his grain to be so depressing.

"Yes, we will," Aeryn interrupted. "This is a minor setback. We have to figure out how to ... eradicate this frelling entity. There has to be a way. What about burning it out? What about ..."

"Don't you think we tried everything?" Veena snapped and reared up. "Don't you think we tried burning it out? We filled the corridors with flammable vapor and tried to ignite it and nothing happened. We were willing to sacrifice those that couldn't get away to burn this dren out of here, but nothing worked."

Aeryn turned around to face her, her expression near the breaking point. "Then you didn't try hard enough. I refuse to believe that there's nothing to be done. I am not going to frelling give up on this. There has to be a way out of here," she snarled.

John wanted to agree with Aeryn, but felt the tug of negativity exert an overtly strong pull on him. It worried him that he couldn't see a way out of this, that it seemed so hopeless. The one thing that had kept him going out here ever since he had arrived was his hope and belief that things would get better. Yet right now, right here, when he needed that belief more than ever, it was nowhere to be found. Maybe he was infected after all. Maybe this was all a part of the entity taking over.

"Maybe we should just ..." he began, but stopped himself before he could finish that sentence.

Aeryn turned burning eyes on him. "Don't you dare give up, John. Don't you dare," she warned him. "You don't give up. You're not a quitter. Even when things looked the worst, you've never been a quitter. I won't allow you to be one now."

He flinched lightly at her words, fully comprehending now how well she really knew him. "I'm not giving up," he lied. "I just ... it's hard to see a way out of this."

"We try burning it out. Even though you people already tried that, we'll try again. We'll isolate a small room, fill the corridors with flammable vapor and use a failsafe to ignite it. Once the fire storm is over, we'll know if it worked," she said.

John nodded while feeling the tug of negativity lessen. All they needed was a plan and he'd been unable to come up with one, which had obviously resulted in this downward spiral of negative feelings. "Sounds like a plan to me. And one that might actually work for a change."

Aeryn sneered. "My plans always work," she growled and pushed past him. "Veena, you're coming with me. I need to know exactly what you people used and why it didn't work," she added and strode past the other woman.

"What about me?" John asked.

"Go back to the utility closet we found earlier. Seal off the air vent as tightly as you can and see if you can't locate a storage room where they have oxygen bottles. We need those if we're going to survive," she called back.

"Oh good. For a moment there I thought we were going to split up," he muttered, not really happy with this scenario. But he realized that they had to work fast before the next wave of 'evil' hit the facility and that meant they had to split up. He would have to deal with the utility room first. With a sigh, he grabbed a roll of what looked suspiciously like clinging film off the second hover cart B he couldn't for the life of him remember why he'd put that on there in the first place B and hurried back to the utility room to block off the air vent.

Once that was done to his satisfaction, he returned to the floor plan room and started going over it inch by inch to find a storage room that might contain oxygen bottles.


Aeryn eyed the bottles Veena claimed they had used and frowned. "What the frell is wrong with you people?" she finally asked and turned around to face the other woman. "This dren isn't flammable. It suffocates fire."

Veena glanced at the bottles, looking confused. "What?" she asked.

"It's used for the fire suppressant system. This would never catch fire," Aeryn countered. "Frell, whoever among you came up with this plan must have been infected."

Veena sighed. "So many lives lost," she whispered.

"There's no time for that now. We need to find something else. Some kind of gas. Whatever they used to power the drills in the mines, for instance," Aeryn said and started going over the other bottles sitting around in the storage room.

She found several containing highly flammable gas and once she had established that its ability to burn didn't decrease much when mixed with air, which would dilute it, she decided to find out if there were any more storage rooms with these bottles.

"There's a big tank of this on the second sub‑level," Veena said after a moment where Aeryn had considered various options of distributing it. "Maybe, if we placed it in the air circulation chamber, it could help spread it?"

Aeryn stared at the bottles she had found so far, her mind racing. "Second sub‑level, you said?" she asked without looking at Veena.

"Yes, there's a storage room down there, a big one. I've seen the tank down there," Veena countered.

Aeryn folded her arms over her chest, then turned around to face the other female. "For someone who didn't know that fire suppressants can't be ignited, you know a lot about where the flammable material is stored," she said. She didn't need a pulse rifle to administer a fatal blow to this female if necessary. "And we've been on the second sub‑level. All that was stored down there was food."

Veena eyed her, her expression almost unreadable. "Did you go around the bend in the corridor? There are several store rooms down there," she countered. "What are you suggesting?"

"Who's idea was it to burn this dren out?" Aeryn asked, not deigning to answer the poorly veiled accusation.

"I don't remember his name," Veena claimed. "He suggested it and the others went for it. I only helped."

Aeryn eyed her, trying to place her. She was tall, yes, but she wasn't powerfully built. Her hands were delicate despite her size and the way she dressed indicated a lack of self‑esteem. She made a face. Veena's way of dressing could also be based on that she couldn't find anything to fit her here. If she had indeed been alone in this facility for nearly a cycle ... With a light sigh, she discarded her suspicions once again. Instead she focused on what role Veena had played in this facility. "What kind of a tech were you?" she asked.

Veena blinked. "Uhm ..." She hesitated, glanced away, a sure sign of insecurity, and then she sighed. "I was a cook, alright? I prepared the food. Along with about ten others."

"A cook assistant?" Aeryn asked and Veena nodded, her cheeks turning slightly pink. "How old are you?"

"Too old for that position," Veena countered. "It was all I could get. I've ... spent ten cycles in a Peacekeeper prison for stealing."

Well, that made a whole lot more sense than anything else she had heard so far. It explained a lot about Veena's poorly veiled hostility toward her and her obvious attempt to turn John and herself against each other. "Well, I'm not a Peacekeeper any more and I never will be again, so you have nothing to fear from me," she said and glanced around the store room. "Let's go find that tank. If you're right, we can place both the tank and the bottles here in the air circulation room and spread it that way. It will take about an arn or two to saturate the entire station and then we can ignite it with a remote controlled spark."

"Sounds like a good idea to me," Veena replied and tried a smile.

Before either of them could make a move, though, the door to the store room slammed shut and no matter what they did, the door wouldn't open again.


John stood still and stared at the floor plan, spelling his way through some of the tougher words B he had never thought learning a different language could be that tough B when the lights suddenly died.

"Shit," he snapped and blinked aimlessly into the darkness. Then it struck him that he hadn't closed the door to the floor plan room upon entering. And if the lights were out, so was the power to the door controls. "Oh no," he whispered. Instead of aiming at the door to try and close it B he wouldn't have the first clue how to anyway B he found the surface of the floor plan and followed it in the opposite direction to the corner, then along the angling wall to the furthest corner. Whatever happened next, there was nothing he could do to stop it.

He slid down the wall into a crouch, wrapped his arms around his knees and just waited in the complete darkness of the room. If Veena was right, he was in major trouble right now; trouble he most likely wouldn't survive.

A few heartbeats later the pounding started. Methodical, nerve‑shattering, slowly it made its way toward the open door and in its wake followed moaning voices and shuffling footsteps of many feet.


The temperature in the floor plan room dropped dramatically and the sounds, eerie as they were, seemed to come from everywhere at once. John squashed himself into the corner, desperate to keep his distance from those bodies he could sense just out of reach, while he desperately tried to keep any sounds he might make at bay.

A sickening breeze of decaying, putrid flesh filled his nose and he pressed a hand over his mouth to prevent the gag-reflex this was provoking. The sounds reminded him of every damned horror movie he'd ever seen in his life and in his mind's eye he could see what would happen if these people B or whatever the hell they were B realized he was here.

Amidst the moaning and the shuffling feet, something roared loud enough to make the floor vibrate. Whatever this thing was, it was big and it sounded damned angry. Every muscle in his body tensed at the sound and he was convinced that his final moment had come. The sound of something big sniffing the air very close to him made him squeeze his eyes shut and wish desperately for the wall behind him to just swallow him up.

And then it was right in front of him. It smelled like death and rot and sewage, its breath was icy cold and the wet nose that touched his arm made him jerk and suck in a lung full of air. The sound this produced was too loud in his ears and it had its effect. Everything froze. All sounds ceased, all movement stopped. The something he couldn't see right in front of him roared loud enough to make him slap both hands over his ears to block out the sound. Something in the airflow around him told him that it was rearing back, obviously getting ready to strike, and his response to that was immediate. He threw himself sideways out of the corner and heard the crash and the groaning metal when that thing hit the wall where he'd just been.

On hands and knees, he frantically made his way through the room, tripping several of the hoard that accompanied the unspeakable. Icy cold hands grabbed for him, but none of them seemed able to hold on. He banged into a wall hard enough to rattle him, but the panic flooding through him made him capable of ignoring the bone-jarring impact and move on, using the wall as a guideline. He could hear the monster sniffing for him, felt the cold hands reaching for him, and it spurred him on. And suddenly he was at the door. He scrambled out through the opening, barely avoiding a hand grabbing for his hair by diving into a roll that sent him right across the corridor where he hit the opposite wall.

He got up on his feet and used his fists to get past the reaching hands and cold faces that got too near. The further he got, the stronger his will grew to get out of this one in one piece. The monster was following him, but it started to fall behind when he broke into a run, fighting his way through the compacted corridor until he reached free space that gave him the opportunity to increase his speed and lose the rest of the hoard.

He ran for his life, crashing into walls he couldn't see, following bends in the corridor to god knew where. He had no idea where he was going and he didn't care. All that mattered was to get away from the monster and its followers, and since he was now alone and had apparently managed what others had not, he couldn't help feeling exhilarated. He grinned painfully in the complete darkness and ran on, colliding with walls along the way.

Then suddenly the walls vanished and he had the feeling of space around him. He stopped, out of breath, the hairs on the back of his neck standing on edge, while he listened to the cavernous silence of what he thought could possibly be the reception hall.

Without the walls to guide him, he was pretty much in no man's land until the light came back on, but he still started to move forward, trying to make the line as straight as possible, and soon after he banged his knee into the edge of the reception desk. Without delay, he hauled himself over the desk, made his way to the entrance and closed the smallish gate. Then he hunkered down inside the ring and slowly got his breathing under control again.

For a long time he just sat there, listening and waiting, while the adrenaline rush slowly wore off and left him shivering with exhaustion and hurting from countless new bruises. And then the lights came back on. He squeezed his eyes shut against the sudden glare and allowed himself to gradually get used to the light.

From somewhere, he heard a crash followed by running footsteps. "JOHN!"

Aeryn sounded downright frantic. He couldn't help a pained grin and then struggled to his feet, his legs now barely able to support him. "Aeryn," he called.

She ran toward the reception desk and launched herself over it. Worry was etched into her features when she wrapped her hands around his face, her eyes dark and stormy. "Are you alright?" she asked.

"Yeah, I am now," he replied somewhat shakily. "I had a bit of a run-in with Mr. Bad Guy, though."

"But you're alright?" Aeryn insisted.

"A bit banged up as you can see, but I'm okay. I got away from whatever the hell this thing is," he replied.

Veena had come racing into the reception hall right after Aeryn and came to a skittering halt when she saw him. Her eyes grew wide at his words and she paled. "You're infected," she almost hissed and backed up a step.

John frowned lightly at her, then glanced at Aeryn. "I'm not infected," he stated, wanting nothing more than for Aeryn to believe that.

"You look like dren, John. There isn't a dench of skin that isn't bruised," she countered and eyed him critically. "Did it beat you up again?"

He snorted, a halfway successful attempt at a laugh gone awry, and shook his head. "No, any new bruises are entirely self-inflicted," he said. "I've lost count of how many walls I've run into on my way back here. I was in the floor plan room when the lights died. And the door was open."

Aeryn rolled her eyes. "You never learn, do you? How the frell could you forget to close and seal the door?"

"I didn't count on being in there very long," he countered and shrugged. "Anyway, I got away from it, so no harm done."

"Nobody gets away from the darkness," Veena claimed, her tone nearly hysterical. "You're infected!"

Aeryn swirled around and slapped Veena, who was standing on the other side of the ring desk. The other woman reeled back, a stunned look in her eyes. "He is not frelling infected, you fekkik," Aeryn snapped. "I know John and he's not infected."

With one hand covering her now flaming red cheek, Veena took another step back. "Suit yourself, Peacekeeper, but I'm not staying around him any more."

"Then go away," Aeryn said calmly. "We don't need you."

"Correction," John inserted, his eyes on Veena. "Look, I know this whole crap is uber-scary and all, but don't go out there alone. I know you've been getting along without us, but we're your ticket out of here. And I promise you, I'm not infected. I'm just pretty banged up."

Veena stared at him, her eyes wide with fear, her hand still covering her cheek. But she made no move to leave and John saw that as a good sign. At least until she let him know why she lingered.

"There's no frelling way you're not infected, Crichton. Unless you're not fully Sebacean," she said quietly.

John just stared at her for a moment. "I'm not Sebacean at all," he countered.

Veena's eyes widened further. "You look Sebacean," she nearly whispered.

"Yeah, well, I'm not," he said with a smile that hurt his bruises.

"Then that's why it can't take you over. The head cook wasn't Sebacean either and he was the only one who encountered the darkness and wasn't taken by it. He managed to escape on the last flight out of here."

Aeryn glanced back at John, who gave her a doubtful look back. "Get your facts straight," he then said, returning his attention to Veena. "So far you've said that nobody encountered this crap and survived. Now you say someone did? Which is it?"

Veena just stared at him, no immediate indication of that she understood him, which struck him as a bit odd.

"Hey! Did you hear me?" he insisted.

"Yes, I heard you," she countered and let her hand drop. "The matter of fact is, that I don't know if there were others that could beat this thing," she said, her tone and posture tense. "I hid. From the very beginning I hid. This dren can't get through locked doors, so I locked myself in one of the store rooms where there was plenty of food and water and I just stayed in there. I'm not proud of it. I ... ignored cries for help. But ... I was scared. I didn't know what was going on and ..." She trailed off and looked away.

"Coward," Aeryn growled.

John grabbed Aeryn's shoulders hard. "It may not have been the bravest thing she did, but she's not a coward, Aeryn," he admonished her. "Why don't you be truthful from now on, okay? No more lying," he added to Veena.

Veena made a face, but said nothing.

"Do we have a deal?" John demanded.

"Alright. We have a deal. But I wasn't lying. I just ... " she tried, but John raised a hand and shook his head lightly.

"Don't. I don't want any weird explanations. Just ... don't lie to me. I don't like that," he said and turned back to Aeryn. "We have to get the hell out of here, Aeryn. This thing ... whatever the hell it is ... is escalating. Actually, that should be these things. Because it felt to me as if the whole damned population of this station was hot on my heels."

"There's only one," Veena interrupted and stepped closer. "The feeling of these others ... it's not real. There's only one."

John frowned at her. "Na-ah. They tried to grab me. Loads of hands. I hit a few pretty darned cold faces too on my way out of there. Don't go telling me that one ... creature does all that."

"It does," Veena insisted. "I'm not making this up. The darkness is all there is. It's one creature. All the others are dead." She sounded almost desperate for them to believe her and John couldn't help wondering why she was so insistent.

He made a face. "Well, then it's reanimating those it has killed, because that wasn't one creature I ran into up there," he countered and shuddered at the memory. "It sort reminded me of ... a big rat. A very, very big rat with a very, very rotten temper."

Aeryn knew better at this point than to ask what a rat was. It didn't matter anyway. He was making an analogy in his mind to explain what he had felt and B more prominently B smelled. Whatever this 'darkness' was, it was definitely a rodent of unusual size. The idea alone got stuck somewhere between being overly funny and scary as hell. "R.O.U.S.'s," he muttered and couldn't help a small smirk.

"What?" Aeryn asked.

"Rodents of unusual size," he clarified. "It's ... it was a ..." Then he sighed. "Never mind. It'll take too long to explain. If we get out of here, I'll tell you all about it if you're still interested," he added.

"You mean when we get out of here," Aeryn corrected him. "Now, what do we do now?"

For a moment, he just stood there and stared ahead of himself, feeling every single little bruise and wishing he'd had the sense to bring that magical healing spray of hers. Then he focused on her again. "I don't know," he said and shrugged lightly, then glanced at Veena who was still watching him as if he was going to sprout another head any moment. "Any ideas?"

"We hide?" she countered. "There's nothing else we can do. It won't let us leave."

He glanced around the reception area and frowned, then hissed. "Ow," he muttered and gingerly prodded his sore brow for a moment. "I refuse to accept that we're stuck here," he then said. "I ... there has to be a way out of here," he tried.

Aeryn eyed him for a moment, her expression one of slight concern. "You've got your optimism back?" she asked.

He glanced at her. "Seems like it," he muttered.

"What? Is he behaving differently than before?" Veena asked and took a quick step back.

Aeryn arched an eyebrow. "It's more like he wasn't himself in the beginning, but is now," she clarified, but kept on frowning. "Why the frell is this ... dren attacking you all the time? Why is not attacking us? Why isn't it going after us, if it can't infect you?"

John met her gaze dead on. "What is this, twenty questions? I don't know. Ask the expert. She's been here longer than us," he countered.

"I wasn't expecting an answer," Aeryn countered. "We have to get the frell out of here or blow this station up. Whatever it takes to get away. This dren is dangerous and we can't risk it spreading to anyone else who might happen to come by this station and decide to raid it."

"Agreed. But how do we go about that?" John countered.

Aeryn thought it through for a moment, then pursed her lips. "It seems that it doesn't like the idea of us burning off the station, so I say we go for that again. We incinerate the corridors, the offices, the storage rooms, everything. If that gets the doors and the pod back, we get the frell out of here and report it in to the nearest authorities as being a hazardous infectious site. That will make them blow it up," she said.

"And what part of that is going to work?" John countered sarcastically. "Seeing as it worked so well the first two times it was tried."

"We stick together. And we are not going to stop until it's done," she countered.

"Speak for yourself," Veena interrupted. "I'm not going down there to get the gas. No way."

John frowned at her. "Down where?"

"Second sub-level. There's a store room around the bend in that corridor where they keep the fuel for the drills. It's highly flammable and it is gaseous, which means we can place the containers in the air circulation room, open them on remote and ignite them on remote once we're safely in the utility room," Aeryn said.

For a long moment all John did was stare at her. Then he glanced toward the bank of elevators. "Uhm ... am I missing something here or did you just say sub-level two? Where this crap is coming from?"

Aeryn turned her attention to Veena. "Apart from the store rooms, what's down there?" she asked.

"Only the access shafts for the mine. All four of them. He's right. We shouldn't go down there," Veena countered.

John knew where this was heading, but he still did not feel much like walking right into the lion's den. That sort of plan never worked.

It was obvious, though, that Aeryn didn't agree. "We have to. We won't get out of here if we don't do it. All we have to do is retrieve the containers. The air circulation chamber is on this level. It won't take that long."

"It doesn't take a hell of a lot of time for this crap to come breathing down our necks either, Aeryn, and I personally am a little fed up with being smacked over the head by this thing," John countered and flinched when he moved his jaw too much. It was still pretty sore.

"If your approach to this is fear, then it will come for us," Aeryn said sternly. "It is my belief that it has not attacked me yet because I am not frelling afraid of it."

"Well, good for you, babe, but I am and there's nada I can do about that right now, okay? I don't think going down there is the best idea you've ever had," he shot back, a little irritated by her attitude right now.

"Then you come up with something," she snapped.

"I can't. I'm fresh out of ideas here. This is beyond anything I've ever experienced before and ..."

"Could we not stand out here in the open and argue about this?" Veena cut him off nervously. "It comes in waves and I think it's about to come back," she added.

John and Aeryn both fell silent and glanced around the reception area. The lights had dimmed a little. "Okay, fine. Let's hide until it's over, then we go for the containers," Aeryn stated, swung herself over the ring desk and looked back at him. "Are you coming?"

"Yeah," he growled and took the long way around. Now was no time for trying to show off. Especially not when he was feeling as banged up as he was. "Hide first, deal later," he added.

Together the three of them made it back to the utility closet before the lights went out. Aeryn and John pushed the door shut and sealed it, then drew back to the rear of the smallish space. Veena had already found a corner to hide in. And only moments later, the corridor outside was once again filled with the sound of shuffling feet and moaning voices that rose to screams of hellish agony and then fell again to moaning.

It still raised the hairs on the back of his neck and made him cold all over, but at least he wasn't alone. No matter how much Aeryn's attitude right now annoyed him, he was still glad he had her to hold onto. 'You're such a wimp', he admonished himself silently and closed his eyes in the total darkness surrounding them.