Despite Aeryn's concerns, neither John nor Veena said or did anything further to upset her and in the end, when the door had cooled down enough for them to touch it without getting burned, her concerns had cooled along with it. Rolling her eyes at her own paranoia, she wrestled the door open with John's help and then they stepped out into the singed corridor. Everything was black. Anything not metal had melted and was hanging in ropes from the walls and ceiling or smeared across the floor.

Careful not to tread on the obviously still hot puddles of melted material everywhere, they made their way cautiously back to the reception area and Aeryn registered three things at once. The goods they had unloaded from the second hover cart were damaged goods, most of them having been burned to a crisp. The doors had reappeared and the pod was sitting where it was supposed to sit.

"Hah! See? I told you. It's over. This ordeal is finally over," John exclaimed.

Aeryn glanced back at him and wondered about that outburst. What he had expressed in words, neither his tone nor his expression showed and that was definitely off for him. In her opinion, he should be jumping up and down by now and if there was one thing she could imagine he'd say to this, then it wasn't what he had said. Deciding to copy one of his favorite remarks, she tried a smile. "Let's blow the popsicle stand," she said and it earned her a by now expected odd look. And not from Veena.

So maybe Veena had a point. Maybe he was infected. But leaving him behind was not an option. Aeryn had reached this point in her life where she could not imagine her continued existence without him and having to give him up to something as obviously frelled as a cloud of blackness was not an option she was willing to live with. They had beaten Scorpius' neural clone together. They would beat this together.

"I meant, let's get the frell out of here," she corrected herself and gestured for him to move ahead of her.

He did without hesitation, another quirk that proved to her he wasn't himself, and then she followed him. Veena trailed after them both, but she was much more relaxed around John now than she'd been before, which made Aeryn wonder what the frell had happened in that utility room.

As they walked out the doors without encountering another gaping abyss, and the pod didn't disappear right in front of them, Aeryn knew somehow that either this 'darkness' had been burnt out of the station or it had decided not to wait around for new people to turn up. She was more inclined to believe the latter as she hung back a little, allowing Veena to get ahead of her too. John strode up the ramp to the cargo hold with Veena right behind him.

As soon as they were both inside, Aeryn slammed a hand against the emergency button next to the ramp, effectively sealing both the hatch and the door leading into the pod itself. She knew she was going to have to answer for what she was doing if she was wrong, but right now she couldn't risk being contaminated herself and there was really not much doubt left about those two. Whether Veena had been infected from the start was something she couldn't determine and it didn't matter much anyway. She was convinced, though, that John had been infected on his last encounter with the 'darkness'. Now all she had to figure out was how to get it out of him again before she rendezvoused with Moya.

She jogged over to the stairs and climbed inside, closing and sealing the door behind her. Then she double-checked that the door to the cargo hold was sealed and could not be opened from the inside, before she moved up to the cockpit and settled into the seat. At this point she was unwilling to even consider that John might be beyond redemption, but a part of her knew that it was a possibility. As she could not allow this 'darkness' to get onto Moya, she would have to come up with a plan before she contacted Pilot.


Suddenly he was back to himself, thinking as clearly as ever. Only there was something wrong with him. At first he couldn't figure it out, but then he remembered his ordeal in that cave and froze.

"Where the hell am I?" he muttered and glanced around.

This was definitely the cargo hold of the pod. He started moving, intent on getting to the door into the rest of the pod, but his movements were sluggish, almost as if something was trying to prevent him from controlling his own body.

Before he had even made it halfway, his knees buckled under him and he hit the floor on all fours, feeling an overwhelming need to throw up all of a sudden. His stomach cramped painfully and he started dry-heaving at first, unable to dislodge whatever his stomach was so unhappy with. His chest burned fiercely while his eyesight became very blurry and his ability to hear vanished. And then it suddenly came lose. The process of emptying it all out of his system took way too long and he was on the verge of crying with fatigue and pain by the time his eyesight cleared up again and his hearing returned.

Only at that moment did he realized that not only had he been throwing up, but an oil-like substance had leaked from his eyes and ears too. A rather heavy lump of blackness lay on the floor in front of him, writhing as if in pain. Then it liquified and started oozing away from him.

Horrified, he scrambled backwards and started coughing at the same time, the taste of slick oil in his mouth. That thing from the cave; it had invaded him and had literally shut him down. And now he was on the pod and it had left him ... and that was not good.

Although weak now from the upheaval, he managed to get to his feet and stumbled over to the door. Only when he reached the door did he dare glance back over his shoulder to see where this stuff might have gone. And that was when he spotted her. Veena. She stood at the very rear of the hold, her arms spread out as if welcoming a wayward child home, her eyes on the black tendrils snaking toward her. Some of them had already reached her and were disappearing under the hem of her pants. All the while, a black cloud was starting to form around her.

And then she looked up. Her eyes were black pits and her face pale and ghostly. "Thank you for the rescue, Crichton," she said, her voice grating as if she had sand in her throat.

Whether it was the sight of her or the words she spoke, this encounter set him off, broke him out of his temporary immobility, and he started hammering on the door like a madman, desperate to get out of the hold. "AERYN! LET ME OUT!"

It took a moment before she turned up at the small window in the door, her expression tense. "I can't, John. You're infected," she countered after having turned the intercom on.

"Not any more," he rasped and sent a terrified look over one shoulder. "For God's sake, Aeryn, let me out of here. It's Veena. It was Veena all along." To verify his words, he shifted to give her a better look and fortunately she was able to see what he saw.

Veena was now completely rimmed by the darkness. She smiled and even her teeth had gone completely black. Before he could say another word, Aeryn opened the door, grabbed him by the front of his t-shirt and yanked him out of the cargo hold before she slammed the door shut and sealed it again. Obviously, that one didn't go over well with the creature Veena was slowly turning into, because it roared with hatred and disappointment, reminding him of that giant rodent he had envisioned meeting.

John staggered into the opposite wall, caught himself and turned around just in time to see Veena's now decidedly discolored face turn up at the window. "Let me out, Aeryn. I mean you no harm," the creature on the other side said, the voice almost gentle.

Aeryn just stared in at it, her left hand hovering over a big button high on the wall next to the door. "If you meant no harm, you wouldn't have attacked John. You would have asked for help," she countered.

Veena's face seemed to slowly lose moisture and flexibility. She looked like she was aging rapidly. "I could not ask without a body of my own," the darkness replied.

"You're killing Veena as we speak. You cannot be allowed to get anywhere near any civilizations," Aeryn said matter-of-fact like.

John pushed away from the wall and stepped closer, reaching out to brace himself against the wall next to the door. "Can't we try to save Veena?" he rasped, his voice almost gone.

Aeryn stared in at Veena, at the dehydration going on right in front of their eyes, and gently shook her head. "I don't think Veena is in there any more," she said. "I'm sorry."

For a moment, John just stared in at her too, then he turned around and leaned against the wall, not wanting to see what would happen next. "This is my fault," he rasped.

Aeryn grabbed his shoulder and squeezed lightly with her right hand, then slapped the button with her left. The cargo hold doors opened, sucking air and cargo out into space. Veena grabbed a hold of the doorframe and started screaming; a high piercing scream that rattled John more than he would ever admit. He closed his eyes hard until the screaming stopped.

"This is not your fault," Aeryn finally said.

He glanced at her, then chanced a glance at the small window, which was now empty. "Yeah it is," he disagreed.

"You can't save them all," she admonished and eyed him thoughtfully. "I've taken an awful risk here, John. For all I know, you're still infected."

He cleared his throat, then wiped the back of one hand over his lips and made a face. "I don't feel infected," he countered. "I feel sick to my stomach and I have jello for knees, but I don't feel infected."

She pursed her lips. "On the sub-level, after the door slammed shut, what happened?" she asked.

Most of all he wanted to find somewhere to sit down, but realized how important it was for his continued existence that he convinced her that he was back to normal. That thought almost made him grin. What the hell was normal out here? He had just been violated and possessed by black gunk. "The lights went out, the door slammed shut and suddenly it was all over me. At first I thought something had broken, because I heard what sounded like a damned tidal wave of water rushing toward me, but then this ... slime hit me instead. I think it was that transparent stuff from the floor." He paused and made a face, flinching when that again hurt all his bruises. "Incidently, those flares ... they don't last very long. They died out the second the lights died."

Aeryn nodded, obviously not interested in the flares viability right now. "I heard the rushing water too," she confirmed. "What then?"

He shook his head and rubbed the back of his neck pensively. "It was a bit of a blur after that. It totally covered me, knocked me over, and dragged me. I have no idea to where. I couldn't see. And then I was ... stuck on the floor of a cave. It's probably that cave that Veena mentioned. The one where they first discovered the darkness," he continued and cleared his throat again. He considered this part of the story for a moment, then briefly closed his eyes and sighed. "All those people ..." he muttered.

"What people?" Aeryn asked.

"I think every single one of them was down there. They looked mummified, were stuck to the walls, floor and ceiling. I think this thing bled them dry, either for food or something else," he explained. "It was there, the darkness. This dark cloud hovering at the other end of the cave. And then ..." He stopped and swallowed, then licked his lips and grimaced at the taste of bile and oil.

"And then what?" she pressed.

"It became solid, turned into some sort of oil. And ... and it ..." Damn, this was hard to explain. He sighed. "Aeryn, no offense, but I need to sit down soon or you'll have to carry me the rest of the way."

She eyed him through narrowed lids for a moment, then nodded, grabbed his arm and helped him to the cockpit, where he eased into the copilot's chair with a groan. She took her seat next to him, keeping a weary distance between them for now. "What did it do?"

He stared ahead of himself for a moment, wondering why she was so gung-ho on the details, but figured he didn't have much leverage right now. She still didn't look very convinced that he wasn't dangerous. "It ... invaded me in want of a better word," he finally said, using the least abrasive word he could find. "Then everything went black. I don't remember anything until I suddenly snapped back into existence inside the cargo hold."

Having finished his tale as quickly as he could, there was little more to say at this point. Aeryn stared at him for a second or two longer, then glanced off into the distance without saying a word.

Somehow he got the impression that he'd done something wrong along the way. "How did I end up in the cargo hold, Aeryn?" he asked quietly.

She made a face, then leaned back on her seat. "The lights came back on, the door opened and there you were, no worse for wear," she said. "You claimed not to have heard any water rushing and that nothing had happened. We set up the containers with the gas, hid in the utility room and lit the frelling mess. The station burned out, we left the utility room and headed for the pod. At some point I realized that something was wrong with you, so I let you and Veena enter through the cargo hold, then locked you both in and took off," she explained. "The rest you know."

He knew what it was that she wasn't telling him right now. "You were ready space me, weren't you?" he asked. The thought made him shudder inside, but he knew she did was what best for survival. If that meant sacrificing him if he couldn't be saved, then she would do it. It was both reassuring and utterly devastating to know this about her.

She stared into space for a moment longer, then shrugged lightly. "I would probably have done it if I had seen no other way. Fortunately that did not become necessary," she countered, then met his gaze again. "The food is gone. We have no supplies. So, where do we go from here?"

He considered that for a moment, then sighed. "I guess we'll have to find another commerce planet and pay for our groceries this time," he countered. "Let's just make sure it's a friendly place with wide open skies, loads of good air and preferably a beach somewhere. I really need to feel solid, un-haunted ground under my feet."

His response made her smile. "Yes, let's do that," she agreed, turned to the controls and took them back to where Moya was waiting for them. They would have a lot of explaining to do, but for now they were just happy to have gotten away from another impossible situation.


Out in space, far away from the pod and from Moya, the darkness had reassembled after discarding the now useless body of another Sebacean. It drifted in a cloud in the total darkness of space, quietly expanding and contracting like a pulse. In its vapor-form it had a rudimentary intelligence and all it knew was that it was happy to be out of that planetoid and the gravity that had kept it on the planetoid for so long. It was once again time to go on the prowl, to find food and a new place to live.

The End