John had no idea what these bugs were or what they wanted, but their actions reminded him too much of certain movies he had seen and since everybody was running and people that got too close to them were screaming, he would take their word for that these things were dangerous.

Aeryn pounded along the alley they were in with enough stamina to win the longest marathon on Earth without being winded at the end and all he could do was try to distract himself from the growing pain in his legs and increasing sting in his sides by trying to keep up and thinking of what the bugs in the movie Aliens did to people. It spurred him on, but he knew he wouldn't be able to keep this up for much longer.

As it were, the decision was taken out of his hands when the wave of bugs caught up to them. Because he was behind her, John was the first to be hit and it generally felt like six or seven of them jumped him at once. He lost hold of Aeryn's hand and hit the dirt face first, getting the wind knocked out of him in the process. The fact that none of the bugs stopped to finish him off or drag him along dawned on him only seconds later. They had knocked him down, but were proceeding forward in a swarm that climbed up the walls on either side of the alley.

He tried to get up, tried to see Aeryn, but both things were thwarted immediately by clawed feet and a mass of bodies rolling over him with enough force to run down walls. He hit his face several times when the bugs used his head as a stepping stone, and eventually it was too much. The sound, constant and unnerving as it was, faded away and so did whatever light had managed to get through the throng of bodies above him.

When he came too again, it was to an eerily quiet alley. He blinked rapidly and spat dust out, then pushed himself up on his hands and knees. His brow was aching and stinging and so was most of his face. "Shit," he rasped and coughed to get some of the dust out of his lungs.

Then he raised his head and looked down the alley. There was no sign of Aeryn anyway. Slowly, he got to his feet, noting along the way that others were rising from the dirt, brushing themselves off, and it struck him immediately that there wasn't a single woman among them. Men and children, but no women.

Some of the children started crying and some of the men tended to those nearest them, but still there was no sign of mothers coming to comfort their children. "What the hell happened here?" John muttered.

"The Nur'dur happened," one of the men said and turned his attention toward John. "Once a cycle, they turn up here and take our women." The speaker looked rattled and deeply saddened. "We never see them again." He wrapped an arm around a larger boy and picked up a smaller girl and sent a long look along the alley. "Curse them. I hope they fry," he spat while the girl started crying.

John felt his heart drop. "Aeryn," he whispered and started forward only to realize that his legs were not yet willing to carry his weight. He nearly collapsed, but was stopped by strong hands grabbing his upper arms.

"Steady, my friend. There is nothing you can do now."

With his attention so strongly drawn toward the last place where he had seen Aeryn, it took him a moment to realize that he knew that voice. It was the voice of a ghost, though, and it made the hairs on the back of his neck stand on edge. Aeryn was gone, taken by bugs to god-knew-where, and here he was, being supported by the hands of a ghost. His breath stuck in his throat and his heart started beating painfully fast as he slowly turned his gaze to the hand on his right upper arm. It was a solid hand, a familiar one too, and despite all he had seen and heard out here, he still felt like fainting.


John turned around, finding the strength somewhere to not topple over, and found himself to be in a strangely torn state of mind. Part of him wanted to scream like a girl at what he saw while another part just wanted to faint and yet another part wanted to holler with joy. But all of these emotional storms were quenched by the ultimate concern right now. Where the hell was Aeryn and how was he going to get her back?

"D'Argo?" he finally managed and, like an overtired little child, he rubbed one eye with his fist, not managing to make the vision in front of him go away. His gaze snapped to the big guy's collarbone and found the scars from the rings there. Then he looked up again to meet his eyes, completely incapable of responding further to what he considered to be a dead man.

"Yes, John. I survived," D'Argo confirmed with a smile.

"That's not possible. If you'd had a chance of survival, we wouldn't have left you there," John disagreed and took an unsteady step back. To add insult to injury, he now also felt guilty for leaving his friend behind even though he still did not entirely believe that what he was seeing was real. He shook his head lightly and was almost overwhelmed with dizziness. "I've got a concussion. I'm seeing things," he muttered to himself and took another unsteady step backwards. This time, though, his legs refused to cooperate in the support-business and if it hadn't been for D'Argo's speedy response, he would have ended up in a heap on the ground.

"It is possible, John. I had no other option at the time than to tell you to get the frell out of there. I would have hindered your escape. It would have served no purpose if you all had died," D'Argo said quietly.

John shook his head again and briefly wondered why he kept doing that when it made him dizzy. "But ... your blood was black. You couldn't have survived."

"I had help," D'Argo said and inclined his head to one side.

John just stared at him for a moment, then glanced to the right side and found Sikozu standing there. Then he looked back up at D'Argo. "She saved you?" he asked.

"Trust me, my friend. I was as surprised by it as you are, but yes. She saved me," D'Argo confirmed. "I think we should leave this place. There is nothing further to be done here," he added and glanced around.

That sparked John back into action. "No," he disagreed, pulled out of D'Argo's hold and turned unsteadily back toward the alley where he had last seen Aeryn. "Aeryn's here somewhere. I have to find her," he insisted.

"She is not on this world any more," Sikozu intervened.

John glanced back at her. "She has to be. She was here before this crap went down. Those bugs must be holed up somewhere," he countered.

"They are not. The Nur'dur do not live on this world," Sikozu said, her tone not much changed from what he remembered. She still sounded awfully full of herself.

"Then where do they live?" John demanded and turned back to fully face her, once again nearly losing his balance in the process. D'Argo was there to support him, though.

"Far away," she said, her gaze locked on his. "And there is no chance that you can save her. Nobody has ever returned from there."

John glanced at D'Argo, who looked sad, and then back to Sikozu, who didn't look anything. She just stood there and stared at him. "Why did you help him?" he suddenly asked, motioning toward D'Argo. "Not that I'm not eternally grateful for that, but why did you save D'Argo? I thought you were in this thing for yourself and no one else."

"I am 'in this', as you say, for my people, Crichton," she growled.

Obviously, there was nothing more to be said on this matter right now and, come to think of it, John didn't really care why she had saved the big guy. The fact that D'Argo was alive was a happy occasion without a doubt, but it was overshadowed brutally by the absence of his wife. "I'm sorry, but I'm not going to take anything she says for granted. I need to find Aeryn. I'm not leaving her here," he said to D'Argo, turned around again and started down the alley, gaining strength with every step he took.

It took him half a day to realize that Sikozu might be right. All he spoke to along the way told him the same tale. These Nur'dur came in once a cycle, grabbed whatever they could of women, and disappeared again. In ships. Nobody seemed to know when they came or where they came from, only that their ships obviously had cloaking devices, which one man speculated they had stolen from the Luxans. Nobody, it seemed, had ever returned from their home world and hence nobody knew where it was.

To say that John was frustrated was to put it mildly. He fought his emotions down and tried to remain calm and rational, but more than once he yelled at people and even threw one man against a wall because he couldn't answer his question. D'Argo, who had followed him the whole time, stopped him from causing more damage though.

"Enough, John. There is nothing to be gained by walking around this town, asking questions. The people here know nothing. If they did, they would have retrieved their females, don't you think?" D'Argo asked.

John was both angry and utterly upset and felt like smashing something. "She can't be gone. I won't accept that. She has to be out there somewhere," he insisted for the umpteenth time.

"She probably is. Let's return to Moya and find out as much as we can about them. If we can find their home world, we can go in and get her. Let's just do something a little more constructive than this, all right?" D'Argo suggested. "You are exhausted, my friend. You need to rest."

"Rest?" John exclaimed and threw his hands in the air. "I can't rest, D'Argo. Aeryn is gone. These ... critters took her to god-knows-where and are doing god-knows-what to her. I can't let that happen. Her son needs her. I need her."

"I know, but you can do no good here. Let's go back to Moya," D'Argo insisted, wrapped an arm around John's shoulders and steered him back toward the space port. "We'll find her. I promise."


Chiana came to meet the pod, having left little D with Rygel for the time being, and waited anxiously for the bay doors to cycle open. From what Crichton had said on the comm, Aeryn was missing and he had picked up someone on the planet. All she wanted to know was what the frell was going on.

Crichton was the first to exit to pod and he looked like dren. His face was dirty and bloody from numerous scratches and his clothes looked no better. He was a bit wobbly, which would indicate a concussion. "What the frell happened?" she exclaimed instantly.

"Long story, Pip. These bugs swooped in and grabbed Aeryn along with a lot of other women. We have to find out where they took her so we can get her back," Crichton countered and grabbed her shoulders.

"Yeah, of course. We'll find her. Don't worry. Aeryn's tough. She'll hang on until we get there," she tried to reassure him, but then caught sight of Sikozu, who was next in line to leave the pod. Chiana felt herself bristle immediately. "What the frell is that tralk doing here?" she snapped. "I thought she was with Scorpius."

"Looks like she isn't," Crichton countered and glanced back at Sikozu, who wisely kept her distance from Chiana.

"You stay the frell away from me, tralk, or I'll rip one of your arms off and clobber you to death with it," Chiana warned angrily.

Crichton pulled her close, probably to prevent her from attacking Sikozu as well as to steady himself. "Take it easy, Chiana," he admonished.

"Why should I? She's a frelling ..." she tried, but stopped short at the sound of the footfalls that followed the Kalish down the steps. She turned her head and craned her neck to see past Crichton's shoulder and felt time slide to a stop. For a microt or two she couldn't even breathe. All animosity toward that frelling Kalish evaporated in an explosion of disbelief and joy. "D'Argo," she breathed.

Crichton released her and turned with her as she slid by him and flew into D'Argo's arms. She wrapped herself around him and started kissing him, no doubt in her mind that he was real and alive and back in her arms.

D'Argo in turn just held her and let her express her joy at seeing him again without a word, but finally he pushed her out a little and gave her a big smile. "How have you been, Chiana?"

She wrapped her fingers around his tenkas and planted a kiss on his nose. "I've missed you so frelling much, D'Argo."

He pulled her in again to embrace her and held her close for a moment. Then he set her down. "And I you," he assured her. "But finding Aeryn takes precedence right now."

"Why would you waste your time? Nobody knows where the Nur'dur live," Sikozu interjected, her tone annoyed. "Nobody has returned from their home world. Even Scarrans fear them. What makes you think you can save her when you do not even know where she is?"

Chiana was about to say something to that statement but John beat her to it. "I don't care what your problem is with the universe, Sputnik, but I happen to love Aeryn and I won't leave her behind. I am not just going to abandon her to her fate," he snarled, suddenly blistering angry.

D'Argo pushed Chiana aside and grabbed John's shoulders when it looked like he might lunge at the Kalish. "Easy, my friend," he warned.

"Give me one good reason for not throwing her out the nearest airlock," John snapped, trying his best to push past D'Argo.

"I owe her my life. For whatever reason they saved me, her and that Grnshlik, I owe them my life. And a life debt is not something a Luxan takes lightly," D'Argo said sternly.

"She has ulterior motives, D'Argo," John insisted and Chiana nodded in agreement. That was for certain.

"Either way, I still owe her my life. And I will protect hers until that debt is repaid," D'Argo stated quietly.

For a moment it seemed like Crichton might take a swing at him, but then he backed down and took a step back. "To hell with her. I need to find Aeryn," he said, turned around and strode away.

Chiana watched him go for a microt, then returned her attention to D'Argo. "What the frell happened, D'Argo? We thought you bought it on that planet," she said, her tone a bit wavering. To see him again like this, alive and well, made up for a lot of heartache, but there were things left to explain. These explanations would probably have to wait until they found Aeryn, but after that she would bully him into telling her everything.

"It's a long story, Chiana. Let's focus on Aeryn first, shall we?" he countered and took her hand.

"All right," she agreed and pulled him with her out of the bay, in the process totally ignoring Sikozu, who remained behind.


John paced Command back and forth, back and forth, nearly wearing grooves in the floor, while he listened to the few tattered reports he had been able to dig up on these bugs.

It wasn't much and it wasn't helpful and it caused him to gnaw helplessly on his knuckles while he desperately tried to come up with a plan to first find and then save Aeryn. He was so engulfed in his thoughts that he didn't realize he had company until he turned and nearly bumped into her.

Sikozu had stepped in his way. "Perhaps I can help?" she asked.

He eyed her for a moment, then sneered. "How can you help? You already said that nobody knows anything about those bugs," he growled, stepped around her and started pacing again.

Sikozu pulled out of his path and watched him move for a while. "I know where their home world is," she said quietly.

John stopped dead in his tracks and turned around to stare at her. "What?" he asked. "You said before that nobody knows where it is."

"I did not want to tell you because you have no chance of freeing Aeryn," Sikozu said. "And I knew you would go there if I told you where it was."

John eyed her with narrowed eyes for a moment. "Why are you suddenly so concerned about my well-being?"

She made a face, but her gaze never wavered while she looked into his eyes. "I am not. But I need your help. And I realize that the only way I can get it is by helping you in return. Although I do not believe that you will survive it if you go there to free her."

John covered the distance to Sikozu in two long strides, grabbed her by the front of her bodice and lifted her bodily off the floor. "Where are they?" he pressed out through clenched teeth.

He had to give her credit for looking a little worried, but she quickly regained control over her emotions. "I will show you," she said. "It is about two days travel to that sector. It is in Scarran space, but you need not worry about Scarran patrols. They go nowhere near that area. Even they cannot defeat the Nur'dur."

It took all the control he had, but he eventually set her down and released her. Clenching his hands into fists, he took a step back. "I don't give a flying frell about who's afraid of them. They have Aeryn and I'm going there to get her back, one way or another," he pressed out.

"Then you are frelled. But it is of course your decision," she countered and readjusted her bodice before heading toward the planning table. She called up a specific chart and pointed toward one cluster of stars covered in what looked like a cosmic cloud.

John leaned on the table to take a closer look. "That looks like the centre of the galaxy," he said and eyed the surrounding clusters of stars more closely. "Is it?"

"No, it is not. It is merely a gas cloud that contains the few worlds the Nur'dur have claimed as their own. Who the frell cares? They are there and that is where you will have to go to attempt your rescue mission," she countered and stabbed a finger into the cloud. The planets hiding inside gave off faint light and when John tried to access their data, all he got was an unknown.

"Shit," he hissed. "How the hell am I going to know if I can even breathe on those rocks?"

"Perhaps you need to reconsider?" Sikozu asked and flinched when John gave her a warning glare. "Or perhaps you could send a drone to check it out. Remodel one of the DRDs for the job."

Despite his distrust of her, that sounded like a good idea. The only thing was that he wasn't too sure he wanted to send one of the little guys to its doom just for information. On the other hand, this was Aeryn they were talking about. He had walked straight into Scorpius' clutches without a second thought when she had needed his help and he knew, despite all he had been through, that he would do it again. "And how do I do that?" he finally asked.

Sikozu sighed. It was obvious what she thought of his abilities and his chances, but he didn't care. "I will show you," she said in an overbearing tone of voice, turned and left Command behind.

"And I will put a frigging hole in your head if you're setting me up," he growled and followed her.


Pilot and Moya had agreed to let John use one of the DRDs as an information-gatherer and John left it to Sikozu to make sure the little guy could both fly and transmit. What was most important to John was that the little guy could come back again of his own volition, because if there was one thing that both Moya and Pilot had made abundantly clear, then it was that Moya would not, under any circumstances, enter that gas cloud.

They were now about half a day's travel away from their destination and the DRD had been transformed into a miniature vessel. It could not longer move on its own because it was sitting on top of a modified fuel container attached to a miniature propulsion engine that would allow it to manoeuver in space.

John eyed the contraption while Sikozu put the finishing touches on it and wondered what it would tell him once it got out there. Would it even be able to get past the border of the cloud? Or would those bugs shoot it down before it even got that far? "How much do you know about those bugs?" he asked without looking at Sikozu.

"Not much, but more than most," she countered without stopping.

"What do you know about them?" he tried, aware that every step he took with her could lead to potential disaster. She couldn't be trusted, that much was for certain.

"They are frail, but very fast. They can climb almost any surface, which generally gives them the advantage in any given situation," she said and finally straightened up. "Their claws, which they have on all hands and feet, are strong enough to penetrate the hide of a Scarran and they are intelligent."

John rubbed his lower lip with the ball of his thumb while he kept staring at the now helplessly chirping DRD. "How intelligent?" he asked and reached out to gently pat the little guy.

Sikozu glanced at him. "About as intelligent as you, I would guess. They have honor. That, of course, does not make them civilized."

John frowned and finally faced her. "Honor? What do you mean?"

She gave him that look he had come to know so well in the time he had known her. She was exasperated at how dense he was sometimes. "From what I know, they have an honor code. If you go in, you have to fight their champion to the death. That is the only way that they will let you come and go without killing you. If you should be so exceptionally lucky that you do beat their champion, you will be granted one wish. They will give you Aeryn and they will let you leave. But your chance of beating their champion is close to nill."

There was something a bit unsettling about the fact that she knew that much about a race nobody else seemed to have the first clue about. "How do you know that?" he asked quietly.

She held his gaze for a moment, then returned her attention to the DRD. "I just do," she countered. "The best thing you can do if you do fight one of them is to remember that they are frail."

John snorted. "So am I. From what I could tell, I'm gonna bleed a lot faster than they will," he said and remembered the hard, rock-like feet hitting him and driving him into the dirt. "They have an exoskeleton. They're bugs. It'll be damn near impossible to avoid getting sliced to pieces before the fight has even begun," he theorized.

"That is why nobody has returned from their worlds," Sikozu confirmed. "But it is possible to beat them. You have to keep an eye on the attacker at all times and counter his attacks by getting out of his frelling way. If you are lucky, you can brake his back quite easily when he races past you. They may be fast, but they do not turn very well."

"I repeat, how do you know that?" John asked, his tone a littler sterner now. He was getting a little uncertain about this whole deal because of her obvious knowledge of these creatures.

She bared her teeth in a feral display, then glanced at him again. "The Kalish have tried to gain their trust. They are among the only creatures in the galaxy save a budong that can kill a Scarran without trying repeatedly," she finally spat, obviously annoyed that she had to disclose this bit of information. She turned a little and faced him fully. "You are not to ever reveal this information to any Scarran. No matter what they do to you. If you do, the Scarrans will eradicate my people," she added with a sneer.

"I thought they already were doing that," John countered and folded his arms over his chest.

Sikozu displayed some real feeling for once when she took an angry step toward him and raised a finger at him. "This is not funny," she snapped. "I have vowed never to reveal this information to anyone. I only did so now because you need to trust me on this one."

John narrowed his eyes a little. "Why is it so damned important to you to help me right now? What's in it for you?" he asked.

"Do you want my help or not?" she countered angrily.

John decided that now was not the time to alienate her. If she could help – and it would appear that she could – he needed every bit of information she could give him to survive this one and bring Aeryn back. "I do," he said instead of antagonizing her further. "I'm just trying to figure out what your angle is here," he added, then raised both hands in a deprecating gesture. "But never mind that now. We can discuss that when I get back."

She sneered again and pulled back a step.

"Okay, tell me everything. We still have a few arns left before we get to our destination. I need to know everything you can tell me about the bugs," he added.

"It is not so much what I can tell you that you need to learn right now. It is what I can teach you," she said sternly. "You need to learn to avoid fast objects. And, as you said, we only have a few arns left."


The pod drifted silently toward the cloud, pushed forward by one blast of the engines before John had shut them down to make as little 'noise' as he could when entering the cloud. Granted, it didn't get him there as fast as he would like to go, but it would get him there in a less detectable manner than if he raced in, engines blasting.

He watched and waited, listening to Pilot's ongoing narrative of the activity Moya would and could detect within the cloud, and tried not to think of the insanity of doing this ... provided of course that the tales he'd heard about the Nur'dur were true. Sikozu had no faith in his survival skills at all and neither did D'Argo or Rygel. The only one aboard Moya right now who seemed convinced he would come back was Chiana and he wasn't entirely certain she was being objective about this.

The helmet of his suit sat on the seat next to him and he kept glancing at it, wondering if it would be necessary. He would put it on before leaving the pod, but given the fact that these critters lived on that world and appeared to be able to exist on oxygen-rich worlds as well, he could only assume that the air on that planet he was heading toward was breathable. If it wasn't, it would pose as a whole new set of problems he would have to deal with and he preferred not to dwell on that until it was absolutely necessary.

So far this whole scenario reminded him of one too many sci-fi movies from home and how bugs in these movies could exist in the complete vacuum of space. "BS," he muttered to himself. "If it's alive, it's gotta breathe."

"Not necessarily," Sikozu's voice rang from the speakers. "Budongs do not breathe air."

He closed his eyes and tried to focus on any positive thoughts he could find. "Thanks for the pep-talk, Sputnik. Now get off this channel," he finally countered. The last thing he needed right now was her pulling him down a peg or two. He needed all the faith he could have that he would make it out of this one alive and hopefully in one piece.

It turned out that the area around the worlds inside the cloud were just as hazy as it looked from the outside and it wasn't until the pod entered the atmosphere of the largest planet that it cleared up. John realized that this world, barren as it had looked on the feedback from the DRD, was eternally covered in clouds. There would never be a blue sky and sun on this world. "No wonder it's desolate," he muttered and flicked the engine back on.

The pod descended toward the surface, whirling up dust as it came to rest on the ground. So far there was no sign of any life, neither plant-based nor insect-based. John grabbed the helmet and headed toward the exit hatch, leaving the engine running. There was no telling how fast they had to get out of here once he had secured Aeryn and he would rather not have to wait for the engine to warm up before they could leave.

He didn't bother climbing down the steps, but just jumped to the dusty ground after donning his helmet and opening the exit hatch. The hatch cycled shut behind him and wouldn't open again until he entered the correct code. He hoped Aeryn could guess it if he wasn't there to help her. With that in mind, he decided that he would have to tell her the code the moment he found her.

The dust his landing had whirled up slowly settled again and gave him a clearer vision of what this world was like. Dust. That was all there seemed to be on this rock. Sand-colored dust and a few sloping hills around this patch where he had set the pod down and nothing else. There were no tracks, no immediate signs of life, and he was beginning to wonder if this was the right planet. Maybe the bugs were holed up on one of the smaller worlds instead. Maybe they lived in lush gardens and had actual houses. "And maybe if I click my heels together twice I'll wake up at home," he muttered and made a face.

Something chittered to his right. He turned his head and squinted at the small rise there, but there was no movement. "Okay, so this is the right place," he confirmed and started forward. He would be damned if he would start out with challenging their champion; if they even understood him. Talk was better. No waving guns around until it couldn't be helped any more. If that bitch Grayza had taught him one thing, then that was it.

"Yeah, that and keep it in your pants no matter how much you want to go the other way," he added and made a face. Why that had to pop up now was beyond him.

"What the frell are you talking about, Crichton?" Chiana's voice sounded from the headset.

John grinned ruefully. "This planet is turning me on, Pip," he countered sarcastically. "It's dead. But the bugs seem to be here."

"Then stop spouting dren and get Aeryn. The sooner you are away from there the better," Sikozu inserted.

"Didn't I tell you to stay off this channel, Miss Britannica?" John countered. "Now shut the hell up, guys. You're cramping my style here."

The headphones fell silent and after switching the headphones off, John continued onward in a straight line away from the pod. He would have to find someone or something to show him the way to where ever the bugs were holed up, but until then he would have no other choice than just to keep walking.

He climbed a slight rise and came to a stop when he reached the top. There was nothing but flatlands ahead of him, which indicated that he was on a plateau of some kind. A quick look around told him two things. He was alone and the helmet was hindering his field of vision. He couldn't see very far to the sides without having to turn his whole body. "Shoot," he grumbled, then grabbed the little device that told him if the air was breathable. It hung from the utility belt he'd strapped on, a standard issue for any Peacekeeper uniform. From the readings the air was breathable and it would give him a definite advantage if he lost the helmet.

Without further delay, he opened the seal and pulled it off. The air that hit him was arid and dusty and still. Nothing moved. He took a shallow breath and held it for a moment. The air tasted stale, like it hadn't moved in a long while. "Not good," he grumbled, readjusted the headset, put the helmet down on the ground, and started walking again.

He had only taken a few steps when he caught the first sign of movement. A quick glance to the right showed him that something had surfaced from the dust and he came to a stop yet again and stared at the creature. When they came at people in waves as they'd done on that commerce planet, it was hard to distinguish what the Nur'dur looked like. They were bugs. Period. But here, now, he got a good look at the critter that was standing there, about twenty feet away from him, while it in turn was watching him. It looked like that human fly clone from the newest version of The Fly, he surmised, but then frowned. Actually no. It looked more like a Praying Mantis with a few modifications. The head was definitely that of a Praying Mantis. Big bulging eyes, mandibles and not much else. The body was way slimmer than that of a Mantis and there was no immediate indication of wings. It had two sets of legs and two sets of arms, but instead of those big choppers the earthbound Praying Mantis had, this bug had hands, four fingers on each hand and monster claws on each finger.

The only thing the bug moved was its head, which it kept turning from one side to the other and back again. John didn't move anything. He just stood there and watched, trying to determine what to do next and it hit him that if he'd met these bugs first when he'd arrived out here, he would have died screaming. This creature was a nightmare come true; a man-sized bug. Instead of raising a hand in greeting and saying hi, he waited for the bug to respond to his presence.

It took a while, but eventually the critter seemed fed up with watching him and started moving forward while it chittered at him. John's response was to take a step back and reach for his gun. But he reconsidered and instead raised his hands in a deprecating gesture. "Easy now. I'm not looking for a fight," he said aloud.

The bug stopped and chittered again.

"You're gonna have to be a little clearer than that. I don't understand a thing you say," John said. Only too late did he realize that the bug hadn't been talking to him. The sudden sound of shifting sand behind him made him send a quick glance over one shoulder. The sight that met him there made him freeze to the spot. This deal was going south fast if the hoard of bugs behind him was anything to judge by. "Oh shit," he muttered.

The bugs behind him started chittering and John decided he'd rather have his back to the single bug than the whole army, so he turned around, his hands still raised. "Chill out, guys. I'm not here to cause trouble," he lied and wondered if they could tell he was lying.

It would appear they could, because the hoard suddenly started moving and they all raised their arms and waved their claws about. Their pace changed instantly and suddenly they rushed him, all chitters and waggling claws, obviously ready to slice him to bits, and when he hit the ground on his back and felt the first claw tear through his flight suit, he knew he was in for a rough ride he wouldn't win unless he used that one single trump card Sikozu had given him. "I WANT TO FIGHT YOUR CHAMPION!!" he roared. By now it was obvious that he wouldn't be able to talk his way out of this.

His demand had one immediate result. All the bugs stopped dead in their tracks as if someone had pushed a pause button somewhere. John just lay there with the critters poised over him and no way out and could only hope that they had stopped because of what he had said and not just because he had yelled at them.

He barely prevented a sigh of relief when they pulled back and formed a tight circle around him. One of the bugs broke the circle and stepped closer. "You?" it asked in what to him sounded like perfectly understandable English. It looked him up and down. "You have no defense."

With a bit of an effort based mainly on the fact that their attack had taken him by surprise, John got back to his feet and dusted himself off before offering a reply. "I can defend myself," he finally stated and eyed the bug. It was hard to look it in the eyes since its eyes were so far apart. Its head was about as big as his, which made its eyes huge by comparison. "I want to fight your champion for a prize."

The bug tilted its head to the right while the big unblinking eyes with their pin-sized pupils just stared at him. "You will come with us now," it stated and before he had a chance to oppose that decision or demand anything else, a mass of the bugs had picked him up and carried him with them. And he had to admit that their progress was a lot faster than his would have been if he'd been walking himself. Being carried along like this wasn't comforting, though. It brought to mind colonies of ants carrying their prey back to their ant hill to be quartered and eaten.