The room their companions had entered was pitch dark.
Jamie and Cass exchanged glances.
"Do you think...?" Jamie raised his eyebrows.
"No fucking way"
"Why not?"
"I..." Cass opened her mouth to say something, but thought better of it and instead shook her head, her lips compressing into a thin line as she did so.
"Go on"
"There's..." she gestured helplessly "something. Can't you feel it?"
Jamie regarded her in silence for a moment. There had been something – it was gone now – a strange, nameless dread, that had clawed at the back of his consciousness; his nightmares personified, but lurking, just out of sight.
"Yes?" Cass persisted "You felt it too?"
"Yeah" Jamie grudgingly admitted "Just after Jade went in and then again, after Eve and Jaxx"
They exchanged glances.
"It's dark in there" Jamie observed
He was right, as well.
While the room had been gloomily lit before Jade had entered, now, however, it seemed as if there was a strange and unnatural darkness permeating the air; an absence of light so total that absolutely nothing could be discerned within.
Jade's scream pierced the air
"Fuck!" Cass hauled her terminal out in a panic as, unbidden, her thoughts tumbled with the horrors she usually kept safely locked away at the back of her mind; the taint on her psyche from the hundreds of aliens she had recently killed out of spite; Jay's face, twisted with hatred amid the black spots, dancing in her vision, as he tried to choke the life out of her; her screaming doppelgängers all being murdered by Jaxx - their blood sousing her hair and skin; her time in that cage in Tokyo, watching a girl being butchered and knowing full well that she was next; her father's corpse and the grizzly second smile she had carved in his throat in return for the abject horror of the abuse he had inflicted on her.
Cass found that her hands were shaking as she fumbled to activate her terminal "Shit!" she hissed, slapping the device hard on the side in frustration "Fucking thing"
Angrily shaking her head, she tried her best to push away the mental detritus of a hard life, lived uncomfortably close to the edge.
"What are you getting?" Jamie croaked. He looked ashen. "On the terminal, I mean"
"I'm..." Cass paused to swallow the painful lump in her throat; her eyes blinking rapidly. She stared down at the display trying to marshal her unaccountably fuzzy thoughts before her eyes suddenly widened "Shit"
"We need to get away"
"What? Why?"
Cass didn't wait to give an explanation and instead hurried back down the ruined corridor behind them, towards the crater that had been left when the battlemech had exploded "It's another one of those psychic fields" she called back to Jamie, following behind her "The explosion must have activated or damaged it - I don't know. Maybe it's a weapon that's malfunctioning"
"What about the others?"
Coming to a halt, Cass turned to regard him, just as Eve's shrieks suddenly echoed down the corridor, making both of them start.
"Shit" she shook her head "We need to find a way to deactivate this - and quickly. We've no idea what it could be doing to them"
"Agreed" Jamie nodded curtly "Can you trace what's powering that room?"
"It seems to be internal" Cass frowned down at her terminal "These are all self-contained units. They must have just been dropped down wherever they were needed"
"For Pete's sake" Jamie snapped irritably as he turned and moved away, back down the corridor to peer at the entrance of the eerily dark room "There's got to be a service hatch or something"
"The floor?"
"Nothing I can see" he dropped to a crouch to inspect the deck plates more closely "Nope"
"If we could somehow get beneath that room" Cass gestured at the screen to collate several data feeds on the fly "The main neural cluster seems to be down there – Maybe we can destroy it?"
Jamie straightened "Won't that be dangerous for the others, or us?"
"I don't fucking know"
"Well, can't you just hack this field like you did back on that other planet?"
"I already tried a spike" Cass gestured helplessly "There's nothing to interface with. I could maybe come up with something, but it might take an hour or two..."
"That's time we don't have"
"Well, duh" Cass stopped herself rolling her eyes just in time, but she feared she might have offended Jamie when he suddenly strode towards her.
"There" he growled, pointing, to her relief, towards the still smoking crater

Scrambling down the crater walls amid tangles of smouldering, shredded machinery, they quickly found a crawlspace beneath the deck plates and the ground beneath them.
"Are you sure we can get under that room from here?" Jamie asked, crouching down to inspect the gap
"That's what the scan says" Cass proffered the terminal for inspection, but Jamie just shook his head
"I'll take your word" he shrugged "Who's first?"
Cass eyed the opening sceptically "There are going to be things under there, aren't there?"
Jamie glanced up at her and smirked "A big brave girl like you, afraid of a few fist-sized insects?" he shook his head
"We don't have time for this. You go first"
With a sigh and a barely audible tut, Jamie slipped a little torch out from one of his pockets and, flicking it on, he leaned forward to wriggle in under the deck plates. Alone for a moment, Cass gave him a while to get bitten by whatever might be lurking under there before pocketing her terminal and reluctantly following him.
The crawlspace was claustrophobically hot and dark. All Cass could see was Jamie's outline, silhouetted ahead of her by the meagre light from his torch. She didn't like this. At one point, something tickled across the back of her hand, making snatch her hand back with a yelp and hurriedly brush whatever was on the floor aside with her sleeve.
"Fucking hurry up" she snapped, her voice sounding weirdly muffled and flat in the enclosed space "There's something down here with us!"
"There are lots of things" Jamie gruffly retorted as he wriggled forward a bit.
"Why the fuck did you have to say that!?"
"I don't want to get caught in that psychic field - I'm taking my time"
"Fucks sake" Cass muttered under her breath as she fumbled her terminal back out and flicked it on; the display dimly illuminating Jamie's boots and the tunnel around her with an eerie green glow.
"I heard that"
"Yeah, whatever. Urgh" Cass brushed aside a large woodlouse-like insect that was encroaching in her space and tried, instead, to concentrate on her terminal "The field seems to be directed upwards" reported after a moment "Please move"
"You sure?"
"Fucking yes. Argh - There's something on my face!" Cass dropped the terminal to hurriedly brush away whatever it was that had just crawled up her shoulder "Move!"
Apparently deciding to trust her, Jamie lurched forward at this, leaving Cass to hurry along behind as best as she could; the two of them making the the twenty or so metre journey with only a few more panicky, insect related incidents.

"Look at that..." Jamie slid into the shallow depression under the floor of the room, and shone his torch at the blackly glistening fronds that suspended the organic-looking thing lurking beneath there.
"That's the neural cluster" Cass wriggled in beside him, still clutching her terminal.
"How do we deactivate it?"
"Does that thing not tell you anything useful?" Jamie glowered at the terminal "You're too reliant on your damned technology"
"I didn't see you griping about it before" Cass retorted, her attention focused on the display as she tried to make sense of the data flooding in from the scan she was executing "It's kind of alive but ...not. Nanotech? Some sort of organic hybrid?"
"So it's alive?"
"Yes. No... No"
"Can we switch it off?"
A loud thud impacted on the floor above them, making them both jump.
"That sounded like Jaxx" Jamie grunted "Whatever we're going to do, we need to do it quickly"
"Fuck it" Cass unholstered one of her pistols and aimed it towards the cluster. She glanced across at Jamie "Shall I?"
"It's as good a plan as any" he shrugged
She opened fire; the staccato burst almost deafening in the confined space. Lit in stark, muzzleflash relief, the neural cluster exploded wetly outwards with each impact, showering the two with sticky black ichor.
"Fuck" Cass spat as she clawed a glob of the slickly wet shit off her face and shook it away with a flick of her wrist.
"Nice job" Jamie said sarcastically
"Piss off" Cass grumbled, bad-temperedly trying to wipe the black stuff off her. She was soaked through to the skin "You said it was 'As good a plan as any'"
"I didn't know it was going to coat me in this... this... What is this stuff?"
"Cass? Jamie?" It was Jade calling down through the floor to them "Are you guys okay?"
"Yeah, fine" Cass called back "How're you doing?"

How's everyone feeling after their ordeal?
Would someone like to pick up the pieces and get us into the bunker? - I think Artemis has been on his own for far too long

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