Chapter 15: Beyond Pain, Beyond Sanity

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Greg gasped as he was thrown back into reality.

He stumbled, fell to his hands and knees, sucking in great lungfuls of air and then wishing he hadn't. It reeked like a rotted corpse down here. He was trembling all over, his mind twisting around in a maelstrom of emotion and shattered thoughts. Slowly, he regained his feet, his stomach crying out in agony with every movement.

Looking around, he was immensely relieved to see that everyone was still here and intact, though shaken.

"What the fuck was that?" Jennifer muttered thickly.

"Some kind of psychic assault," Drake replied, the first on his feet. "...Eric?"

Greg glanced over. He realized that Eric hadn't moved yet. He was still on the ground. Fuck, had the assault worked on him? Moving past the horrific remains of the body they'd produced, which was still screaming and squirming to some degree, he and the others gathered around Eric. Drake crouched down and tapped into his suit's sensor suite, scanning his vitals.

He grunted. "Well, he's still alive."

"We have to get him up," Drake said. "Whatever's up next...all of us need to be there."

"Get his helmet off, I'll give him a stimulant," Parker replied.

"Will it even work?" Jennifer asked.

"Hell, I don't know," Parker muttered as she crouched by Eric's unconscious form. Drake got his helmet unlatched and off, carefully setting his head on the ground while holding onto the helmet. Parker swabbed a space on his neck and stuck him, then injected the stimulant. They waited a moment. Greg felt the press of time. Suddenly resolute, the pain in his gut making him restless, he straightened up and looked around.

The cavern they were in had several exits. He could see the one they'd come through and, as he scanned the wall, searching for something significant, he spied several smaller openings, big enough for a person to move through, but no equipment. Finally, his eyes fell on a large opening that was, for some reason, difficult to see through. It was almost like there was a heat haze or an almost invisible curtain just beyond the opening.

Another trick of Ash, of the strange entity entombed in the device that was fueling all of this insanity, this horrible, bloody madness.

"Get him up," Greg said, "I'm going to scope out the next area."

There were some affirmative replies. Greg felt like he was barely hanging on. His encounter with Campbell had rattled him, that much was obvious. And yet, despite that...he remembered what he'd said. He'd done the right thing, and he knew, in his heart, that he believed that. Because the alternative had been to simply walk away, to let potentially countless others die. At the time, it had been the right choice.

He suddenly wondered if he would have to make that choice again. Back then, it was easy...although there had been a moment there, after they had recovered the good doctor on the unnamed frozen world, back when Kyra had left him in that infirmary, when he had seriously considered leaving and going with her.

Greg knew that the choice to stay behind had been the right one at the time...but that didn't necessarily mean it was the easiest one.

As he came closer to the opening, the heat haze seemed to lift and he caught a glimpse of what lay beyond. There was a dark cavern and, in the center of it, a large tube-shaped object. The heart of darkness.

Then, suddenly, movement.

Something rushing towards him that he knew he had absolutely no hope of out-maneuvering. Greg began to scream as something sliced into his neck.

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