Aeryn listened to the sounds out there, her eyes closed. They were no use to her right now anyway in the complete darkness. Instead she focused on the sounds, tried desperately to define what exactly was going on out there. Veena claimed there was only one entity and that all the other entities that she had heard and John had encountered were a hoax. To her, it sounded like John was right, though. There were a lot of bodies mulling around out there, groaning, moaning, screaming, howling and screeching. The scraping sounds of fingers trailing along the outside wall, of nails scratching on the surface of their door, was enough to raise the hair on anybody's head, but Aeryn tried to maintain absolute stillness of mind so she could decipher this thing and perhaps find a flaw.

Whatever this dren was, it was obviously not interested in them finding the gas so they could burn it out; which of course meant that fire was its enemy. So they had to find the gas and they had to implement that plan. It was their only way out of here, their only option for escape.

"John," she whispered.

"Yeah?" he countered just as quietly.

"The more I think about it, the more I believe that burning this dren out of the station is the only way," she whispered. "It is imperative that we find that container with the fuel. We have to find it or we'll never get out of here."

"Okay, I get that," he countered close to her ear. "But how do we do that? I mean, listen to that out there. It's obviously not happy about this. If the container is down there, at the bottom, how the hell do we get to it without ending up on this thing's menu?"

"It doesn't seem like it can infect you, does it?" she asked.

"Apparently not, though I wouldn't like to put that to the test," he said and sighed. "What do you have in mind?"

"I know it's risky, but we need to use you as bait. If you can ... distract it somehow," she tried, grinning ruefully because she almost knew how he would respond to that.

"You mean take another beating?" he countered and sighed. "As long as my jaw remains in place ..." he added. "Okay, so how do we do this? You and Veena get the container while I go prancing into the lion's den?"

"Something like that. I don't want to put you in danger, John, but it might be our only way out." She considered the options of actually pulling this off, but figured that if he could outwit Scorpius, he could probably also outwit a cloud of blackness.

"You know, standing here in this cozy little utility shed with the hoards of the dead moaning around outside the door, it seems like a workable option," he finally said. "In other words, I don't think we have a choice any more and, as you pointed out, I've had more run-ins with this thing than anybody else. Sounds better than my plan anyway."

Hoping against hope that maybe he'd thought of something she hadn't, she leaned her head back against his chest. "What plan?" she asked.

"Just about what we're doing right now. Hiding in a closet until it goes away," he countered and she could almost hear the grin in his voice.

Aeryn returned her attention to the front of the utility room and listened. The corridor outside had gone silent. After a moment, the lights flickered back on. "Is it me or are these 'episodes' getting shorter every time?" she asked aloud.

"You're right. They are," John agreed.

Veena had risen from her corner and was staring suspiciously at the door. "It's getting hungry. It hasn't fed for a while," she said, attracting both their attentions. "At least that's what I think is happening. It seems to be losing strength after awhile. It can't keep the charade up for long periods of time."

John arched an eyebrow and flinched when that hurt his battered brow. "Oh goody," he muttered and gingerly prodded the soreness that seemed to be his entire face. "I don't suppose there's much chance of starving it to death, is there?"

Veena shook her head. "I doubt it. It has been hidden away in this planetoid for Cholok know's how many cycles. I doubt it will die if it doesn't get to us," she replied. "It might just ... go into hibernation or something, only to reawaken when someone else turns up."

"All the more reason for us to destroy it if we can," Aeryn said, unlocked and opened the door. She stuck her head out into the corridor and inspected it briefly. "All clear," she added and stepped outside.

John followed her out, keep annoyingly close to her right now.

Veena followed them reluctantly.

"So, the plan is to find that container with the fuel, get it to the air circulation chamber and make sure it spreads throughout the station, then ignite it while we're hiding in the utility room?" John asked.

"Pretty much," Aeryn agreed. "The biggest problem we'll have is while we're out in the open."

"On sub-level two," John said. "You know, I'm not happy about this idea you've had there. I don't like being bait," he added thoughtfully.

"I know. If you have a different plan, I'm more than willing to go that way," Aeryn countered while they walked briskly back toward the reception area.

"My plans always suck," he said thoughtfully. "Although ... this plan sucks too. But it might just work."

Aeryn nodded just as they entered the reception area. "Nothing has been touched," she declared after a glance around. "I find it hard to believe that all these ... goosts of yours could be mulling around out here without leaving even a mark behind."

"Ghosts," he corrected her automatically. "What do we do if the lights go out? I don't know about you, but my eyesight sucks in complete darkness."

"Mine too," Aeryn countered and strode over to the remaining hover cart. She rooted through the boxes on it until she found something they could find use for. Semi-triumphantly, she held up a handful of flares.

"And those are?" John asked, eyeing them critically.

Aeryn gave him an exasperated look and glanced at Veena, who was looking around nervously and not paying attention to what Aeryn had found. "Flares," she said, returning her attention to John. "These are high-quality flares. They work in space and under water. They should do the trick if the light goes out."

John leaned over the box and eyed the contents, then grabbed a handful and stuffed them into one pocket. They were about the length of his hand. "I'm taking more," he said and grabbed another handful. "How long do they burn?"

"All in all, they can burn for about five to six arns each. That should be plenty," Aeryn replied and eyed the hover cart. "We need something to transport the container on. Let's unload everything on this cart and take it with us."

"Oh goody. More heavy lifting," John muttered and gave her a crooked grin before they started unloading the cart. Once they were done, Aeryn started dragging it back toward the level riser banks. John and Veena followed her.

"This idea is so bad, it could have been yours," Aeryn said and sent John a brief grin.

"Hah-hah. I'm laughing my ass off here," he countered and pushed the cart forward when the level riser doors parted.

It took them no time at all to reach the second sub-level and when they dragged the cart out into the deserted corridor again, Aeryn started to have a creeping feeling that something was about to go really wrong down here. Most of all she wanted to abandon this plan as insane and hide somewhere until they came up with something better. But on the other hand she did not feel like spending the next cycle here until the next hapless travelers happened by and stirred this dren to life again.

So instead of voicing her concerns, she dragged the cart forward toward the bend in the corridor and stopped short just at the edge of the vast puddle John had mentioned previously. She stared at the shimmering, reflecting surface of it for a microt, then glanced back at John. "Was that what you saw?"

"Yup," he agreed, stepped forward and leaned in over it. "And it's still not reflecting me," he added and glanced sideways at her. "Or you."

Aeryn frowned, glanced up at the ceiling and then back down at the puddle. There was no way around it, which meant they would have to either wade through it B which essentially shouldn't have been anything to worry about B or they could do something else. Making a face, she pulled a flare from her pocket, hit the butt of it against the wall and threw the now sputtering flare onto the watery surface. Only, it didn't respond like water would have by starting to bubble around the flare. It parted around the flare and 'fled' almost halfway down the corridor.

Veena let out a startled and frightened gasp and reared back a few steps. John settled for taking one step back while pulling a flare of his own. "Not water, then," he commented drily.

"No, it wouldn't seem like it," Aeryn agreed, lit another flare and threw it after the puddle, which retreated even further. "It's afraid of fire," she added. "And not all parts of this thing are afraid of light."

"We're getting to be experts here," John added and gave her a quirky little grin when she glanced at him.

"Where's the store room, Veena," Aeryn asked, glancing back at the other woman, who pointed wordlessly toward the only door they could see in this seemingly endless corridor. "Remember. We stick together until we get down there. Veena and I will go in and retrieve the container, you will keep throwing flares at this thing. And stay by the door," she added and started moving.

The other two followed her and after only a microt or two, they reached the door and Aeryn opened it. The store room beyond was full of large containers marked with the sign for 'flammable'. She pushed Veena inside, then maneuvered the cart in after her. Then she glanced at John. "Be careful," she admonished him.

"Likewise," he countered, lit another flare and threw it at the distant puddle, which retreated further.

Aeryn stepped inside and had barely cleared the door opening before the door slammed shut behind her and the lights died. "FRELL!" she snapped, swirled around and started hammering on the door. "JOHN!"

There wasn't a sound to be heard from outside apart from a slow and steady sound of rushing water. Aeryn lit another flare and caught sight of Veena cowering next to the cart, one fist pressed against her mouth, her eyes wide with fear.

Aeryn ignored her, returned her attention to the door and tried to find the manual override. To her immediate surprise there was none. "FRELL!" she roared. "JOHN!" she added and hammered a fist against the door. All that answered her was that sound of rushing water.


He was stuck to the floor. Translucent gunk, hard as rock, had encased his arms and legs, making it damned difficult for him to move at all, yet he put everything he had into breaking this stuff's hold on him.

The lighting here was eerie. Despite his previous belief that this 'darkness' didn't like light, it lived in a sort of gloomy, half-shadow world where the light came from what appeared to be some kind of growth on the walls of its cavern. The 'darkness' itself was indeed nothing but darkness. It seemed to be a sort of gaseous form that could expand or contract at will.

Veena had been wrong on a number of points when it came to this crap and therefore he wasn't too certain she had been right about it not being able to infect him. There were countless bodies stuck on the floor, walls and ceiling of this cavern and none of them looked too good. As a matter of fact, they all more or less looked like they had been sucked dry of any fluid. In other words, they looked mummified.

"Aw crap," he muttered and upped his attempts to get free with no luck. A pocket full of flares did him no good when he couldn't get to them and light them; not that he really believe the flares would make that much of a difference now. This stuff had flooded him like a damned tidal wave and dragged him here, muffling every sound he had tried to make by covering his mouth and nose. Curiously, it had then settled for sticking him to the floor of this big cave and had since then made no further move against him.

The 'darkness' was hovering in the furthest corner, far away from him, a cloud of impenetrable blackness that just hung above the ground like some misunderstood cloud.

The thought made him grin helplessly. "You're gonna get it, you know," he assured it, scared out of his mind and angry as all hell. "Aeryn will find that gas and she'll burn you out, you ... whatever you are." He felt a little deflated because he couldn't come up with an appropriate insult. It would seem, though, that this stuff understood him, because it suddenly began to expand, doubling its size in mere moments, where after it started to spread out through the cavern toward him.

As it came closer, it changed consistency, became thicker, heavier, until it started dripping onto the floor not far from where he was suspended. Black tendrils of syrupy thickness started to snake out from the puddle, oozing over the uneven rocky floor toward him.

John struggled harder to get free, to break the ties that held him, but no matter how much strength he put into it, he couldn't even move his arms a fraction of an inch. Grinding his teeth in frustration, he continued the uneven struggle until he felt the first of those tendrils touch him. By this time, the consistency had changed again and it felt like slimy rubbery fingers slipping up over his legs. There was strength behind those tendrils. It felt like strong hands gripping him everywhere at once. And then one of the tendrils found a break in the leather and slipped inside onto his skin. It was icy cold and the feeling of that stuff oozing up his leg under his pants made him gag.

He fought the restraints until the tendrils now slipping up over his chest reached his face. Frantic to avoid it from going where he thought it was going, he tried to twist his face away from it, but knew deep down that it was impossible. He clamped his teeth shut, pressed his lips together into a thin line, and was rewarded by one of the tendrils crawling up his nose instead. Snorting, he tried to stop its progress and had about as much luck with that as he'd had breaking the restraints.

As soon as it was in his nose, it liquified again and started spreading rapidly into his frontal sinuses. In general it felt like someone was pouring slow-working acid into his nose. It burnt as it pushed further into his head, through his nasal passages and into his throat. He opened his mouth to scream, but it instantly filled his mouth as well, blocking off his air supply while it pushed and shoved its way down his throat.

He bucked against the sensation while he clawed his fingernails into the unrelenting ground beneath him. His head was now completely locked down by that stuff and when it started pouring over his eyes, pressing down on them as well, his subconsciousness obviously decided that he didn't need to experience this any further and darkness descended on him, whisking him away from the pain and the violation.


The door would not budged, no matter what she did, so Aeryn decided to prepare for the outcome of this as much as she could. Turning back to face Veena in the flickering light of the flare, she eyed the scared-looking female for a microt. "Get up," she then demanded. "We have to load these containers onto the cart."

Veena's eyes widened a bit more. "Your mate is out there and you're still thinking about the containers?" she asked, stunned.

Aeryn sneered. "There is nothing I can do for him right now," she snapped, strode over and grabbed Veena's arm, hauling her to her feet. "The best I can do is make frelling sure this dren feels my wrath," she added angrily and pushed Veena toward the containers. "Start loading."

In silence, they loaded several of the containers onto the hover cart until the warning light on it started flashing. It had reached its maximum capacity. She then pushed the cart over to the door and lit another flare to get some more light. For the longest time after that she just stood and stared at the door until her self-imposed stillness suddenly broke and the anger and frustration welled up in her. "FRELL!" she roared and kicked the door hard enough to send a painful shockwave up through her leg. But the physical pain was nothing compared to the icy lump that lay heavily in the pit of her stomach, weighing her down.

Before she could get worked up about it further, the lights suddenly flickered back on and then the door opened again. Aeryn sucked in a lung full of air in surprise. "John," she said. He was standing right outside the door, looking no worse for wear although he did look a little nervous.

"I thought I was done for," he countered with a nervous grin. "Are you girls ready?"

Aeryn glanced back at Veena, who in turn was staring at John as if he was evil incarnate. She ignored the other woman's fear and returned her attention to John. "Let's do this. The sooner the better," she countered. "What the frell happened out here? The door slammed shut and then I heard rushing water."

John frowned vaguely. "There wasn't any water out here. The darkness made an appearance, but it has obviously given up on me. It didn't touch me. Maybe it was looking for you."

For the life of her she could not pinpoint what was bothering her about this situation and in general she was too relieved that he hadn't been attacked again to give it much thought, but there was something off about him. "Maybe," she agreed, turned back to the cart and started dragging it out the door. "Veena, keep up," she snapped at the other woman, who hadn't moved yet.

The cart cleared the doorway and Aeryn pushed it toward the level risers without moving her feet, then looked back in on Veena. "Oh, for the love of Cholok, would you just get out here? The danger is over for now. And you said yourself that this dren comes in waves," she huffed, strode into the store room and propelled Veena out the door and straight into John's arms. The other female's response to being touched by him was curious at best. Veena let out a startled gasp and reared back, colliding with the doorframe hard enough for it to hurt if her whimper was anything to go by.

Aeryn frowned at John, who in turn shrugged. "Don't look at me. I'm just standing here," he said and smirked.

Veena shuddered and Aeryn decided to quiz her about this later when there was more time. Like when they were hiding from the fire she was going to start. "Did you find any oxygen bottles earlier?" she asked, turning her attention back to John.

"No. But I think I know where they are," he countered, grabbed the front end of the cart and started pulling it along.

Aeryn forced Veena ahead of her, grabbed the back end of the cart and helped John maneuver it back to the level risers.

They reached the ground level without incident and managed to install the containers in the air circulation chamber without a hitch. The lids were set on a timer, that would open them and expel the gas within into the air ventilation system. The fans would make sure it spread throughout the station.

Veena kept to the background, watching John suspiciously all the time and Aeryn soon gave up on making her help. She did follow them where ever they went, but she kept her distance from John. And Aeryn knew what the female would say if she asked her what was wrong. "He is not infected," she finally growled and glanced at John. And just then she realized why there was something that seemed off about him. He was completely unfazed by what had happened previously. The fact that he had been locked out in the corridor and that this dren had appeared again should have been enough to shake him up. He'd had some pretty nasty run-ins with it and no matter if it left him alone or not, it should still have affected him more than just make him marginally nervous.

But now was not the time to worry about his state of mind. In general he seemed pretty together and normal and that was good enough for her. All in all it was a lot better than her not knowing if she could count on him in a tight spot. "Are you alright?" She had actually managed to ask that question before she had a chance to think about it.

John glanced at her as they placed the last container on the floor of the air circulation chamber and activated the lid. "Yeah, still pretty banged up, but I'll live," he countered with a smile.

She frowned briefly, but again decided to put off any further questioning until they had time for it. "Let's move it. It can only be a matter of time before this dren reactivates and we want to be hidden away by that time," she said, took a brief look around at all the containers they had placed there and nodded with satisfaction.

"Ready?" John asked and gave Veena a smile which made her shudder. She hurried out the door ahead of them and John arched an eyebrow. "I don't know what her problem is, but I bet it's hard to pronounce," he said quietly to Aeryn.

She rolled her eyes, but felt reassured that he was just as silly as always. "Every time you've been away from us, she thinks your infected when you come back. It's getting old," she countered.

"Yup, very old," he agreed and followed her out of the chamber. "We have about fifty microts before the containers open. I suggest we find those oxygen bottles and retire to our little hideout as fast as possible."

Aeryn took the lead and they soon found another storage room with oxygen bottles. Obviously the atmosphere of this planetoid warranted the presence of the bottles. They each grabbed one and then hurried back to the utility room, where Aeryn locked the door and sealed up the cracks with more of the film John had used to seal off the vent. Satisfied that they would be as safe as they could be, they each slipped the breathing-masks attached to the bottles over their faces and settled down to wait.

The ignition of the gas would happen with a remote-controlled spark from a lighter that was used to ignite the flame of one of the many cutters used to burrow through certain types of rock. Usually the flame was so huge, igniting it close to the source was a really bad idea, and the remote simply ensured that the person lighting the source wouldn't be burned to death instantly. The lighter was placed outside the door of the utility room and Aeryn was in possession of the remote.

"The gas is starting to spread," John suddenly said, eying the sealed cracks around the door. "Shouldn't be long now."

"We'll give it about an arn before we light it. By that time the entire station should be saturated. It will probably take another arn before the fire dies down," Aeryn countered.

"As long as it doesn't get too hot in here," John said with a smirk.

Aeryn made a face. "You are frelling insane, you know that? Not many would be able to make jokes after what you've been through."

"Joking is what keeps me alive, Aeryn. You know that," he said and pensively rubbed his brow. "I need to let off steam sometimes and that's the only way I know how."

"You could try working out sometime," she countered and glanced at Veena in her corner. The other female watched them both suspiciously, keeping as far away from them as the cramped space would allow for.

"Yeah, like I'm the real sporty type," he countered with a lighthearted snort and started pressing one finger against his discolored brow. "This dren is giving me a headache," he added.

"What is?" Aeryn asked with a slight frown. It was rare that John used Sebacean swearwords and then only when there were Peacekeepers around he was trying to fool.

"I think the oxygen is too strong for me," he countered with a light grin, drew in a deep breath, held it and then pulled the mask off his face. He exhaled, then inhaled carefully before he started coughing and quickly replaced the mask. "Bad idea," he finally managed.

"It's gas, you frelnik," Aeryn countered and shook her head lightly. "What did you expect? Clean air?"

He made a face behind the mask, then glanced back at Veena too. "Hey, are you okay back there?"

She just stared at him and seemed to shrink into the wall.

Aeryn grabbed his arm. "Leave her alone," she admonished. "Another half arn?"

"Think so," John agreed with a nod and abandoned the idea of drawing Veena into their conversation.

"So, what do we do when we get out of here?" Aeryn asked after a moment. Something was nagging her and she wondered if it really was John or just the whole frelled-up situation they were stuck in right now.

"I don't know. I mean, unless the food-supplies you managed to get on the pod are enough, we need to find another place to get food. So ... a commerce planet?" he countered.

That did not sound like what he had said previously. His reply was off center in some odd way even though it wasn't something he wouldn't have said at all. The circumstances they were in usually colored his comments and she had expected him to warble on about oceans and open spaces with good air. "You're all business all of a sudden," she commented, keeping her tone even and indifferent.

"Yeah, well, what can I say?" he countered and shrugged.

Aeryn glanced at the ceiling, sensing the time passing them by, and finally raised the remote. "I think it's time," she said and rose from where she had been sitting next to John on the floor.

He too climbed to his feet and watched the door intently when she pressed the button. From outside the door, they heard the distinct woof-sound of gas being ignited and the impact rattled the door. Small flames licked under the door, but were stopped by the film. A siren sounded from somewhere and an alarm started blaring.

"You switched off the sprinkler-system, right?" John asked quietly, watching the door that was beginning to show signs of being rather hot.

"Yes," she agreed while the film around the edges of the door started to melt.

"Oh good," he muttered and pulled back a step, then grabbed her arm and pulled her back too. "You are aware that this room is saturated with the gas as well, aren't you?"

"Yes," she countered, starting to feel a little irritated by his incessant need to point out things she had already done. "The film will compact any cracks between door and wall," she added, once again having to remind herself that he wasn't Sebacean and therefore didn't know these things.

"That'll help keep the fire out," he said, sounding nervous now as he took another step back and bumped into the shelves behind him.

Aeryn glanced at him, noting the beads of perspiration on his brow, and wondered if it was fear or the heat that got to him right now. "Are you afraid of fire?" she asked.

He grinned behind the transparent mask without taking his eyes off the door. "No, not at all," he lied.

"He's infected," Veena hissed. "He wouldn't be so afraid of fire if he wasn't."

Aeryn rolled her eyes. "Shut the frell up, you fekkik," she snapped, aware that John made some type of move with one hand, but she was too focused on Veena to register what it was. When she diverted her attention to him again, he was merely staring at Veena with a light frown furrowing his brow. "You're the one who kept saying that he couldn't get infected. And he hasn't been. I know John," Aeryn added and returned her attention to Veena.

The other female eyed him for a moment longer, then made a face and relaxed visibly. "I'm sorry," she said and smiled halfheartedly behind her mask. "I've just been avoiding this dren for so long ..."

"No need to apologize," John countered. "It's okay. We're all going to be okay. I'd be very surprised if the doors haven't reappeared and the pod isn't out there waiting for us," he added and looked back over at the door.

Aeryn glanced from one to the other and wondered what the frell was going on here. Veena had been the verge of popping her top ever since they'd gone looking for the flammable gas to begin with when it came to John. And now suddenly she was okay with him?

And John? Although being negative was not part of his genetic makeup, he had been scared of this place when they had arrived, yet with each encounter with the 'darkness' he had become less afraid and less nervous.

Turning her back on them both, Aeryn eyed the door, suddenly wishing desperately for the gas to burn off and things to cool down so they could get out of this place.