Disclaimer: Rachel Summers, Longshot, and others belong to Marvel. John Crichton, Stark and others belong to... uh, who owns Farscape? If it's SciFi, I say, frell them. Anyway. Dakota belongs to Beverly McIntyre, and is used without permission. No money is being made from this story, nor will there be.

Notes: ok. This... if you haven't ever watched Farscape, I think you'll be ok. If you have, this spoils John Quixote, in season four.

Warnings: Intense insanity ahead. Some angst. Some illogic. Oh. And this is *crossover* which means not all of these characters come from the same universes. Gosh.

Rating: Er... PG13?

Dedication: This is late. It was, however, started ON her birthday, sooo... To Beverly McIntyre, my twin. Happy (late) birthday. :)

Tainted Photographs
by Ana Lyssie Cotton

"What do you here, fair maiden?"

"Give over this antiquated crap, old man."

"For thee, I shall."

Rachel Summers wrinkled her nose and switched off the TV. "Stupid movie."

Her companion cast her a mildly amused look. "You're the one who wanted to watch it. I said that there were far more entertaining things to see, but you insisted."

"Did not." But the redhead was looking away, frowning.

Heaving a large sigh, the blond man stood. "I can see I'm boring you."

"This isn't real."

"No."

Rachel frowned. "Do I know you?"

With an exaggerated bow, the man grinned at her. "I am Longshot, fair maiden. Welcome to the Realm of Mojo the Conqueror."

"Mojo?! Oh, no!" She stood, backing away from the man. "I'm not staying here another minute. I'm not supposed to be--this shouldn't happen again."

"It didn't."

She looked at Longshot. "But--"

"Nonono. Remember? This isn't real."

"Then what is it?"

"I don't know. I leave that sort of thing up to Dakota."

"Uh-huh."

Longshot gave her a grin. "C'mon, I'll take you to him."

"Why do I think this is a bad idea?" She muttered under her breath. But she followed him, until he walked through the wall. "Hey!"

His head came back through. "What?"

"I can't walk through walls, Mr. Ghost."

"This," he explained patiently, "Isn't real."

"You keep saying it."

"You keep not believing it."

She poked the wall. It felt solid enough. "Isn't there a way around it?"

"Nope."

"Damn." Crossing her arms, she stepped back, and glared around herself. The room immediately took shape, as if it had been waiting for her interest before it began to form properly.

The couch she'd been sitting on was suddenly a very ugly green, complemented by puce shag carpeting, and olive and maroon wallpaper (with little curlicues, medallions, and royal crests from by-gone eras. Or eras which had never actually existed. Or didn't yet). A mirror appeared on one of the walls, so heavy, the gilt frame nearly making it fall.

Longshot gave a soft giggle. "You have horrible taste."

"It's not mine!"

"Yes it is."

Rachel stamped her foot, then blinked. "That was..."

"Oh, very childish." He nodded mock-wisely. "Now, come. Dakota should know what to do with you."

"I can't."

"Oh." He tilted his head to the side, and then shrugged. "I'll have to come back for you. Maybe Dakota will have an idea."

"You--" But he was gone, through the wall as if he'd never existed. A small end table appeared, complete with ugly flower arrangement. Rachel grabbed it and threw it at the far wall. "Damnit."

--

Longshot whistled a cheery tune as he strode down the pebbled pathway to where he'd left Dakota. The dark-haired man was leaning back against his tree, the picture of relaxed contentment. It was all pretense. At least, Longshot assumed it was. Dakota was one of those types who just worried too much. Took things too seriously. That's why he, Longshot, was around. To keep him from being too serious.

"What did you find?" The Sioux asked, almost laconic. If it weren't for the quick dart of his eyes, Longshot might have been fooled.

"A girl."

"Cute?"

He tilted his head, considering. "Yes."

"What's she doing here?"

"The same thing we are."

"Oh."

"What's her name?"

"I--" Longshot blinked. "I forgot to ask."

Dakota gave him a Look.

"Well, we could back and ask her. I'm sure she wouldn't mind. She's probably wishing for company right now. That room is... almost as tasteless as Rogue's dream house."

"Hey!"

Longshot grinned.

Dakota stood. "Lead on, then."

"Right this way."

"Walk this way, talk this way?"

"Only if you're Aerosmith."

The dark-haired man shot him a look. "Now that you mention it," he began.

And then he simply faded away, as if he'd never been. Longshot blinked, but then shrugged. After all. This didn't exist.

--

Rachel looked up when Longshot returned, walking confidently through the wall. He was alone. "I thought you were bringing some help," she said sourly.

"He decided he didn't believe in himself anymore." Longshot shrugged and perched next to her on the couch. "Do you know why you're here?"

"I was born?"

"Possibly."

"Huh."

He nodded, grinning delightedly. "You're getting it, aren't you?"

"Getting what?"

"The non-substantial reality of this place."

"I have no fucking clue what you're talking about, Longshot."

A sigh escaped him. "Who are you?"

"Rachel Summers."

"And I'm Longshot. This is MojoWorld. What does that suggest to you?"

"That my life sucks."

He nodded, "What else?"

A frown touched her lips, "What are you trying to make me say? I'm in MojoWorld, I swore I'd never come back, and if I have to, I'll kill that tubby fucker."

"Yes. I rather thought you'd say that." He sighed. "You can't, you know."

"Why not?" Belligerent now, masking a slight fear. But she was angry. At herself, at this place. Maybe even at him.

"Because this place isn't--"

"Wait." She stopped him. "Why isn't this place real?"

He half-smiled, and leaned in, lips brushing her ear. "It's a game."

--

Brilliant colours dotted the landscape. Reds and greens were joined with bright pinks and lazy oranges. It gave the place a rather chaotic look; as if someone had dumped buckets of paint everywhere. The lemon yellow sky furthered the impression. The brilliant colours themselves would have disputed their cheeriness, but they were never given particular consideration. Apart from the occasional mention, and denigration by less amused beings.

A castle rose from the middle of this, opulent and oddly shaped, as if the person who had designed it was not all there. Perhaps he wasn't.

Something that might have been a bird flew lazily backwards in the air around the upper ramparts. Other creatures joined it, and for just a moment, the feeling of unreality was really quite apparent. And then it was gone.

--

"A game?" Rachel stared at Longshot. "What the hell do you mean?"

"That's what Stark told me. And I think he should know."

"Stark?"

"Yes." Longshot glanced at the wall, considering, "You might meet him soon. We're not supposed to be here, you see."

"Not--" the walls shifted, changing from the current wallpaper to many multi-coloured doors. Blue paint splashed itself here and there, and the couch disappeared to be replaced with a workshop bench. Various electronic paraphernalia littered the bench. Including a broken TV with a head burned into the front of the tube. "Now what?"

"We wait."

"For what?" Rachel crossed her arms, and in doing so, happened to glance down. In the place of the clothes she'd been wearing when she appeared here, she now wore something oddly reminiscent of a bad school production of Don Quixote. "What just happened?"
"Game mode has turned on."

Rachel turned to look at the man who had spoken. He was taller than her, dressed in some sort of ragbag Shakespearean garb. Half of his face was a metal plate. And his eyes weren't quite sane. "I don't understand."

"It's very simple, child. You've entered the game. It is all around you. It has begun. Get to the end, and you win a prize."

"Something tacky and gold?"

"No." He leered at her, giggled. "Your life."

"Don't. Threaten. Me." All trace of humour was gone from Rachel's face, and a flicker of flame danced over her shoulder.

Hastily, Longshot stepped between them. "Tell her how to get out, Stark."

"In farthest space beyond the knowing charts," Stark began, his voice sing-songing. "The horrid human and his band appear. And--"

Rachel clamped a palm across his mouth. "Try it again. Without the verse and hyperbole, idiot."

"Mmmthh. Fhhtmm!"

"It's a computer program, Rachel, it can't change."

She glanced at Longshot. "I don't understand, though. How did *I* get here?"

He shrugged. "I don't know."

"Look, Longshot. You know what he's going to say, right?"

"Ye-es..."

"Then just tell me. Don't make me listen to bad poetry. Please." She gave him a look of entreaty.

He shifted, looking uncomfortable. "You have to hear it."

"Why?"

"It triggers the next level."

"The--" She sighed. "Fine. Fine."

Stark smiled at her as she took her hand off. "Shall I begin again, maiden fair?"

"No. Please."

"Oh, but I must," and he took a breath. The verse which followed was confusing, yet made an odd sense.

In closer space, yet somewhere off the bend
The merry mutants banded and disappeared
They left behind some stragglers to mend
Yet, years pass by and all becomes weird
No paths are right, yet none lead you astray
Though flesh deformed doth keep the dream alive,
There is no solution save the hard way.
And if the way your compass cannot keep,
Some pearls of wisdom to thee do I give.

Ha! This should do it!

Your quest is for the Prince of Luck to seek,
The one Mojo's spurious tortures did rend
The Key of Contracts to make him weak
Sign away his difficulty, and there's an end
And if we shades with taste do not agree,
a door of green shall set your senses free."

When he'd stopped, Rachel stared at him, digesting what he'd said. "If I find a green door, I--"

She never got to finish her question.

--

Grey walls, gray floor, dark ceiling. Blue lighting stained everything oddly. Rachel blinked around herself, startled to find she was alone. "Hello?"

A sound came from nearby, and instinctively, she flattened herself to the wall, peering up and down the corridor, watching. Moments later, a blonde young woman ran around the corner, "Hurry!" She grabbed at Rachel. "We've got to--"

Energy splashed against the rock above them and they both ducked and ran as more blasts came from behind them. They were around the corner before Rachel could ask the question in her head. "Who are you?"

"It doesn't matter, we have to go!"

Not knowing where she was became less of a worry than avoiding the laser blasts. Rachel had her priorities. And they included staying alive. "All right. Lead on."

The woman pulled her further down the corridor and around another corridor. "We have to get through here, and then--"

An energy blast seared through the woman's chest, and she collapsed, her eyes wide. Blood and the scent of charred flesh caught at Rachel's senses and she gagged before turning to face this new attacker.

The man stalking towards her was pale, his skin nearly gray. It was stretched around his face oddly, as if all liquid had long burned from the tissues, leaving him a death's head. He was wearing black leather, and looked like nothing so much as a giant cockroach. The gun he held was pointed at her heart.

"Where is John Crichton?"

Deceptively mild, his voice was a rich softness. "Who?"

"Play no games here, girl."

Finally tired of this, Rachel reached out and slammed him against the wall, telekinesis pinning him there as she pulled his gun away. "Look. I'm tired. I'm probably lost. And you're not being helpful." She stepped up to him, pointing the gun at his head. "Why don't you tell ME who John Crichton is."

"Kill him," Abjured the same voice, to her left. She glanced over and beheld the clone of the man against the wall. Except he was wearing a Hawaiian print shirt, and grinning wildly as he sipped from his frou-frou drink.

"Who are you?"

"That's Majordomo, Minister of Finance," the Hawaiian-clad shirt said. "And I, am Scorpius, Minister of Pizza and Naked Sebacean Girls."

"Riiight." Rachel pointed her gun at him. "How do I get through this level?"

"You don't," said Majordomo from behind her. "Only John Crichton can."

"Huh." Tilting her head to the side, she motioned Scorpy to lean against the wall with his twin. "Let me see if I have this straight. The two of you want this Crichton guy. And he's the only one who can get through this level."

"Yes."

"Ah." She pointed her gun at Scorpius. "So. Where do I find him?"

--

"How do you think she's doing?" Stark asked Longshot, lazily twiddling a small white pebble between his fingers.

"As well as can be."

"You don't sound happy, my friend."

"Should I be?" For a moment, Longshot looked bitter, the expression looking incongruous on his features. "You've stolen my world, destroyed everything. And I can never escape you. What's to make me happy?"

"Never know," Stark giggled and squeezed the pebble tight. It flashed, and then disappeared. "She might win."

--

"I hate my life."

Rachel turned towards the voice, keeping Scorpius and Majordomo pinned with her telekinesis. A man was leaning against the wall, looking horrible. His face looked like death warmed over, and his ripped and torn clothes didn't look much better. He was also, she decided, kind of cute, in that puppy-dog-needs-a-cuddle way. "Do you?"

"Yeah. Every time I come here, I always get shot at and beaten up, then mutilated horribly." He shoved away from the wall and stalked towards her. "Do you know how irritating that is, little girl?"

"Greatly, I'm sure." She pointed the gun at him. "All I have to do is squeeze the trigger, right?"

"Yes."

"Who are you?"

"My name is--y'know, why everyone doesn't know my name, I don't know." Rachel detected a faint madness in him, but let it pass. He whirled, "Hello, World! This is John Crichton speaking to you LIVE from Gammak Base!"

With a nod, Rachel caught his arm. "Oh, good. Now tell me how to get to the next level."

"Oh, of course. Let me wave my magic wand."

Growling, Rachel slammed him against the wall, her patience with his antics gone. "Listen, you miserable idiot. I am STUCK here. So help me. And maybe I'll help you."

"Oh, touching, touching," Scorpius called from his position. "Why don't you just kill him, dear. Then we can go to a little place I know in Maui and have 'sex on the beach'."

She whirled on him and pulled the trigger, "I told you to Shut. Up." The blast of energy splattered against the skull-like face, and it burst into a red and gray mass of pulp. Laughter rumbled under her left hand, and she turned back to Crichton. "Wipe that smirk off your face, bub."

"Yes, ma'am." He shifted, "Y'know, this is getting a little uncomfortable."

"Good." Pushing against his chest harder, she had the satisfaction of seeing him try to gasp for breath. "Now. Lead me out of here, and maybe I won't kill you."

"No can do, little girl."

She narrowed her eyes and pushed harder. "Really?"

He winced, "Yes, really."

"Why not?"

"Oooh! Good question." He leaned towards her, as much as he was able, and whispered, "I don't know how." Each word was practically its own sentence, bitten off as if his own frustration gave them a sort of power.

Rachel blinked at him, then began to grin, some of his insanity echoing in it. "But I know something, Crichton."

"And what's that?"

"This isn't real."

As if the words were a catchphrase, the walls of the base tilted sideways and slid away, leaving Rachel standing (seemingly alone) at the bottom of the castle. She gazed up at it, noting the way the walls shimmered as if they couldn't decide precisely what they were supposed to look like. One moment, they were a featureless gray, the next a interior decorator's nightmare of colour and... chintz.

"Now, that was interesting."

She looked behind her to discover that Crichton had apparently come with her. He was peering around, bemused. His clothing had changed, the leather and t-shirt giving way to the same faux-Shakespearean garb she was clad in. And he had a frying pan on his head.

A finger was pointing at her. "You're a different one."

"Huh?"

"Ye-es." The man nodded, "You make things happen. I like that in a woman. Shall we try again?"

"Try--"

He caught her in his arms and leaned in. "This isn't real."

Nothing happened. Rachel moved slightly. "Let me go."

"Damn. I was so sure--" He released her and whirled around. "But that's how this place works, isn't it, Stark?! No one knows for sure, and those who are sure are often *wrong*."

"Shut up."

"Yes, milady." He mock-bowed. "I suppose you wish me to knock on yonder castle door?"

"No." Rachel pushed off with her telekinesis and floated. "I think I'll fly up."

"That would be rude," her companion pointed out. "Flying in, uninvited and unannounced. Any good butler would feel devastated."

"I'm sure." Considering for a moment, she reached out and caught him up in a golden claw. "C'mon."

"Whooo! Look, ma, no hands!"

Rolling her eyes, Rachel sent them both higher, aiming to be above the castle. As they reached the lemon-yellow sky, she discovered that there was a small window. Merely one. "Trap?"

"Hell, yeah."

"Then we stay out here, for now." She circled them around the building.

A loud sound echoed in the mid-afternoon air, and something large flew towards them. Rachel dodged it, grabbed it, and snapped it in half. The pieces of the titanium-steel rocket fell back to the ground. Rather muffled thumps echoed up as they hit.

"Y'know," Crichton said, peering down. "I don't think that worked quite right."

"Hrm?"

"They're coming back."

"Oh, crap--hang on!" Dropping down, Rachel passed the rockets now flinging themselves upwards. There were more below, and she dragged Crichton closer, making them a smaller target.

"Hang on? To air?" A strangled laugh came from the man who was currently hanging upside-down as they spiraled through several loops.

"Just--"

She never got to finish the statement. While she'd been dodging, she'd lost sight of the castle, and as a result, she'd flown into it.

They were stopped. Relieved, Crichton looked down at the ground, far, far below them. "Oh, shit."

--

"Not fair."

"Dear, dear, Longshot." Stark giggled. *Giggled* at him. "Life isn't fair."

"This isn't life."

"You keep saying that. You keep believing that." Bending over the blond man, Stark laughed softly. His gaze was suddenly completely sane. "And this will never end."

"Save her."

"I can't."

"But--"

A brilliant flash of light went through the room, coruscating all the colours of the rainbow. Then it was gone.

Stark shrieked and ran towards the workbench. "NO! It cannot--NO!"

--

When Rachel awoke, her head hurt. Scratch that, her entire body hurt, from the top of her head to the bottoms of her feet. A groan escaped her as she slowly opened her eyes.

"She's awake."

"Well, that's obvious, Zhaan." Rachel identified the voice as John Crichton's.

A soft hand touched her forehead. "Does it hurt, child?"

"I flew into a fucking castle. What do you think?"

A chuckle came from the woman, and Rachel registered that she was *blue*. Her face painted, or maybe it was the colour of her skin. Patterned, too, like a reptile, maybe. She closed her eyes as a wave of nausea gripped her. "Now, now, child. Let the healing work. Don't fight me."

"Fight--" The world broke over her, colours kaliedescoping across her mind as waves of granite and earth washed over her. She tried to scream, but couldn't, all sound lost in the infinite blackness which stole in behind the rest. And then it was gone, and she was gazing at the woman bending over her, mind clear. "I--"

"Ssh. It's no bother." But the woman lied, the strain showing in the way she carefully sat.

"Zhaan?" Crichton looked between the two of them. "What just happened?"

"Nothing, John." Zhaan smiled at Rachel. "It is good to meet you, child."

"Oh. Right. Zhaan, this is Rachel. Rachel, this is--" He broke off, eyes widening as he stared at Rachel.

"What?"

"Your hair."

"Yes?"

He glanced at Zhaan. "You tell her. I don't think she'll try to kill you."

"Really, John, she won't try to kill anyone."

"She's already shot Harvey, Zhaan. You never know..."

Rachel harrumphed. "I'm still here, you know."

"My apologies, child." Zhaan reached out and took her hand. "It's your hair. I'm afraid it's changed, slightly."

"Changed?" Reaching up, Rachel found that it was still there, cropped nearly as short as she was used to. She tugged a bang forward, and blinked. "Oh. Oh my."

"Yes."

"Gotta admit, Ray, honey, that colour's kinda you after your flying demonstration."

She glared at Crichton. "You think that was easy? Given the atmosphere of this place, we're lucky I didn't fly us into the ground."

"I'm flattered."

"Besides. YOU'RE the one who insisted on coming with me."

"True, true." He grinned like a little boy, suddenly. "And I wouldn't take it back for the world."

"Even the long drop to the ground?"

"Nah. Zhaan caught us before we got too far." He patted the hand of the blue woman. "She's nice like that."

"Thank you, Zhaan."

"You're welcome."

Rachel finally took in her surroundings, and frowned. They were seated in what appeared to be a Winnebago, with... she could only think of them as eccentric trappings. Bright colours, lots of beads--and the smell of something which might have been lemon and verbena incense. "Where are we?"

"Near the path to the Fairie Town." The woman smiled at them calmly. "The trolls may find you there, but I'm assured you will make it safely."

"Huh?"

John clambered out of the suddenly open door of the van and leaned back in. "C'mon, little girl, time's a-wastin'!"

"Little girl, my ass." She muttered as she followed him out into what appeared to be an underground garage. "The hell?"

"The path is one level up," Zhaan called as the Winnebago's engine turned over. "Good luck, beloved and Rachel."

"Beloved?"

"Long story."

"Mhm." Rachel glanced around the deserted parking lot. "We've got lots of free time."

"No."

She smirked at him. "And here I thought you said this didn't exist."

"No. You said that."

"I did, didn't I." Rachel frowned, then shrugged. "To the Fairie Town?"

"Sure."

They walked in silence for several minutes; going up the first ramp they came to and around several turns before coming out on another level exactly like the one below. Except the walls here were striped a putrid green rather than a sickly orange. Ahead of them, they could see someone waiting. Rachel squinted, concerned at the distance until she realised the person was *very* short.

"Uh..."

"Sparky!" Crichton yelled, "How are you, my old and rare?"

"None shall pass." The reptilian little alien announced, brandishing his lance.

"Oh, great." Rachel narrowed her eyes at the creature. "Let me guess. You've watched too many bad movies. You think you can stand there, and stop us. But, see, I'm *really* tired. And I'm--"

"Whoooaa, there, missy." Crichton caught her arm. "Think about this for a moment. Do you *want* to advertise our presence?"

She silently pointed above them, to the blackly square shape of a small video camera.

"Oh." He released her. "Blast away, then."

Considering the small, reptilian creature which crouched ahead of them, Rachel made a discovery. There was fear in the creature's eyes. "You called him Sparky. You know him?"

"Yeah. Stark made him for all of this. But he's based on someone I know. Knew."

"Who?"

"Rygel, Dominar 16 of the blah-blah-blah. Thinks he's royalty."

"Ah." Going to one knee, Rachel aimed carefully along her fingers. ::Come out, come out, wherever you are.::

The startled mind that touched hers reeled backwards, as if it knew instinctively how to evade her. Curious, since the mind wasn't coming from the Dominar, Rachel turned to follow it.

"None shall pass!"

A wave of energy and fire splashed towards them, and Rachel dropped her search and slammed up hasty shields to deflect the attack. The Dominar gave a satisfied grunt.

"Damn you." She thrust the shield forwards, tumbling the small creature end over end. It hit the wall behind it with a soft squishy-clanky noise and was still.

"Poor Sparky. He means well."

"Yes." With a sigh, Rachel stood, forgetting about the mind she'd touched. "Let's continue on to the Fairie Town."

"Milady." Crichton bowed ironically. "I do not--"

Ignoring him, she studied the ground where Rygel had been perched. A small round pothole lay there, inviting. Tempting. And a trap, certainly. "No. You wouldn't."

He harrumphed, but peered down at it. "Again, it's certainly a trap."

"Why do we always state the obvious?" She sighed. "We have to go there, don't we."

"A-yup."

She reached out and caught his hand. "Let's go together then."

"All damned, though none are lost?"

"Something like that."

--

"Do you know," Stark said, perched on his workbench, picking at his teeth with something that might once have been a bone of some sort. "You have to almost admire their pluck--hers, at least. Crichton's was programmed in."

His companion ignored him, staying silent as he watched the screen.

"Trial after trial, and still, she's kind and compassionate." He giggled. "I could come to like that, in a woman."

Longshot shot him a scornful look, but continued in his silence. This was probably due to the fact that Stark had gagged him and handcuffed him to a chair. Longshot was taking this enforced imprisonment with good grace, even though he wouldn't have minded Stark being the one so bound.

"Still, I can't have her winning. Of course I can't." A maniacal grin flashed its way across his face, then was gone.

The television flickered away from Rachel and Crichton to show the face of a different Crichton. "My job. Is so boring." He announced.

A large crowd yelled out, "How boring is it?"

"It's so boring, I only kill. One person. Every. Two days."

--

The room had been painted by an insane person. Rachel seriously considered the man at her side a candidate for that position, but doubted he'd done it. For one thing, he'd obviously never been there. Either that, or he was good at ogling the room's many colours. There were red and blue and green and yellow spots everywhere. Mixed in were doors of varying sizes, colours, and configurations. Some were normal doors, others seemed to be mockups of the swooshing doors on Starfleet ships.

Not that the room's occupants didn't match it. A tall man, strode towards them, his multi-coloured robes billowing. "This is the outside of enough!" he boomed. And Rachel realised that here was yet another alien creature. His chin was... wrong. As was his forehead.

"D!" Crichton stepped forward, gladness in his voice. "Long time, no--"

Rachel yanked him away from the suddenly scything sword-blade. "He's not happy to see you." She smacked the alien man once with a telekinetic fist and he went down.

"I noticed. Thanks."

"No problem." The rest of the room appeared deserted, for the moment. There was a cage high in one corner, but it only contained a pile of what appeared to be well-polished bones. She frowned at it, disturbed for some reason.

They both inspected the room, then investigated, one to either side. It was round, which gave them less space to deal with. But the corners--there shouldn't have been corners, but there were--were dark. Rachel stopped under the cage and looked up into it, recognising at least two human skulls before revulsion turned her away. Crichton was looked across the long dining table at her. "I don't want to know, do I."

"No."

He nodded. "I generally don't."

A soft popping noise echoed through the room, and they both turned as one set of doors slid open. A chime sounded, like the doors to the Elevator from Hell were opening. And two silver shiny creatures ambled out of the box-like structure. The doors swished shut, a disembodied voice saying cheerfully, "Thank you. Have a nice day."

"Look, brother. Dinner."

The creatures shifted slightly, and Rachel gasped as she recognised the war wolves. They'd stalked her through London and other dimensions. And now they were here.

"Friends of yours?" Crichton asked, backing to stand behind her.

"Yes. Worse. My telekinesis doesn't work on them."

"What would you suggest we do, then?"

"RUN!" Suiting action to word, she whirled and ran at the wall, aiming with her mind, she shoved. A small crack appeared, but nothing more. "Damn." Another crack appeared, and she shot a look at the lazily approaching war wolves. "Damn!"

"I've got an idea," her companion said, grabbing her arm.

"Now would be the time for one!"

"This isn't real, remember?"

She shook her head, baffled.

"Look, brother, the dinner just waits. It must think it's very untasty. What say you?"

"Mmmm. My nose says they'll smell sweeter than a rose, even though they're not named as such."

"Yes. My thoughts, as well."

Crichton shook her. "Pay attention. You *expect* your powers to work here, so they do. You *expect* not to be able to hurt those silver dogs with your powers, so they won't! So STOP EXPECTING!"

She stared at him, her jaw dropping. "You--but." There was no more time for discussion, the wolves were upon them. They split, each running to the side, a wolf trailing both lazily. After all, it wasn't like there was anywhere else for them to go. The wolves could play all evening, stalking them, until they tired. And then she and Crichton would end up like those poor unfortunates in the cage.

Just bones, for some crazy man to play with.

It occurred to her, as she jumped up onto the table and ran along it, that Crichton was not real. SHE was real, but he wasn't. And the war wolves weren't. None of this place was.

Longshot had walked through walls.

Diving off the table, she rolled in the air, keeping herself aloft because she *expected* to. The war wolf gave a chitter and jumped up for her. She flew higher.

At the ceiling, she refrained from bumping her head, and looked down. Crichton had hopped onto the table and was apparently dancing the Macarena, to the war wolf's amusement. Her wolf was sitting on his haunches, waiting for her to fall. She considered this, then considered the other.

The cracks she had made in the wall were nearly directly across from where she was now.

"Hey, Crichton, mambo a little to your left!"

Sound came from her war wolf, and she realised it was hissing at her. Irritated at her continued intransigence, apparently.

"Right-on, hip hop mama!" Crichton called, moving as she'd requested.

Rachel narrowed her eyes, then grinned. The angle was nearly perfect. She backed slightly, then dropped down, swooping into a long dive. Her hands and telekinesis closed around first one, then two war wolves, and she upped her speed. They struggled, shocked, but angrier than ever. She fought back, muttering under her breath as she did so. "I can walk through walls like Kitty, I can walk through walls like Kitty..."

The wall appeared, then, and the war wolves passed into it, as if it were insubstantial. She released them halfway through, and pulled up.

Horrible screams rent the room, as if a hundred people had stepped on a tack.

Then there was silence, and the war wolves moved no more, merely becoming an odd-shaped projection into the room.

--

"HOW?!" Stark threw an inkwell at the wall, it splattered blue ink everywhere, including onto Longshot. "HOW did she do it?!" He whirled and grabbed Longshot by the shoulders. "You told her, didn't you!"

The blond man shrugged, his eyes innocent.

"For this, I shall do more than destroy your world." Stark shoved him so that the chair toppled over, taking him with it. "For this, I shall destroy her, too."

--

"Well, that seemed to work."

"Sort of." Rachel settled on the ground, contemplating her handiwork. "I think I kept my grip only through sheer willpower. But it worked. Enough."

Crichton hopped off the table and ambled over to her. "How'd you do the wall thing?"

"A friend of mine--used to be able to walk through walls." She shrugged. "I told the wall I could do so--or, rather, the war wolves could."

He prodded one experimentally, then drew his hand back. "They're kinda squishy."

"They would be." She turned away, scanning the room, trying to remember where the elevator had been. It had been purple doors, with silver insets--there. Walking towards it, she stepped carefully over the still unconscious 'D'. "Up or down?"

"Down, probably. That's where hell is, isn't it?"

"Hell...." She frowned, a stray thought skittering across her mind. It was gone before she could understand what it was trying to tell her. Like a scared rabbit that streaks across the prairie, the cougar in pursuit.

Pushing a button, Crichton stepped back. "In case of any other attackers..."

"Right."

A soft ding echoed through the room, and the doors swished open. The box inside was empty, so they stepped in. Carefully. "Floor, please." A softly happy voice said.

"Er. Up." Rachel said.

"Thank you." The doors swished shut, snapping slightly, like the closing of a trap. Or the clicking of teeth.

"Up? I thought we'd said down."

"Changed my mind."

"Ah."

There was a burnt-out television screen to the left of the elevator doors, and Rachel idly wondered what had happened. It looked as if a sword had been thrust through it repeatedly.

"Penthouse suite. Dead butlers, lonely princesses, and barbecued ogres." The voice announced. And the doors swished open on a very garish room.

Someone drunk had decided that vibrant orange went with hot pink. And that forest green was the perfect accent colour. Rachel almost gagged as they stepped out, and the smell hit. As if the decor (faux Victorian, with a smattering of the Regency period's attempt at Chinese), the stench was worse.

"Oh, goodie!" A voice announced, and a blonde woman stepped into the room from the side. Her clothing echoed the room. Bright pink, with lots of ruffles, and a skirt that had to be supported by no fewer than five petticoats. Rachel shuddered, wondering how she even moved in it. Her hair was blonde, piled very high in curly ringlets and wisps that dangled just so. "Ah'm thorry, right thorry that Harvey ain't hehre ta greet you. But he'th dead, thadly." She pulled a handkerchief from one voluminous sleeve, and sniffled daintily into it. "But you are welcome to join me for thome thuppeh."

Rachel stepped back, wondering if maybe down might have been the better choice. The woman was eyeing Crichton in much the same way the war wolves had. "I'm Rachel. And you are?"

"Why, Ah am the Princeth!" The woman almost yelled it, as if annoyed to be asked. Then she simpered. "But Ah gueth two thuch weary travellerth might not know that right away."

"Yes. Right." Carefully concealing a smirk, Rachel gestured to Crichton. "This is John Crichton."

"Oh!" The Princess batted her over-long lashes at him. "It'th tho lovely to meet you." She held out her hand to him.

Reflex made him take it. And he shook it, then dropped it.

A frown crossed the woman's features, and Rachel guessed she'd been expecting him to kiss it. "We're only here for a short time. I was wondering. Do you know anything about the Prince of Luck?"

"Ah have nevah heard of such a perthon." She sniffed. "Ah am the only royalty in these here parts." A fluttering of lashes was sent John's way. "Now, you two are thtaying ta dinner, yeth?"

"No." Rachel smiled emptily. "I'm afraid we have places to go, people to see..."

"But Ah was tho hopin'..."

Stepping in front of John, Rachel let her smile deepen. "I'm sure you were, darlin'. But this boy is *mine*." She winked.

Anger flashed across the Princess's face, but she stepped back. "Very well. Ah hope you shall thtay, next time."

Crichton had recalled the elevator, and the doors slid open with that sexless, "Welcome." sounding out. Rachel backed into it, and kept smiling until the door was closed. Then she sighed. "Well, if that's the worst we have to face, I suspect the rest of this stupid quest shall be child's play."

--

The options had been wrong, all of them. Again and again, she played them, desperately trying to dance her way out of them. All failed. As if she had no control anymore, and that couldn't be. She'd danced the Winding Ways, the universe, even through countless spiral galaxies that existed within the head of a pin.

Irony had long said she was the answer to how many angels could dance on the head of a pin.

One.

Even a fallen angel can dance.

--

While the elevator slowly moved downwards, Rachel finally dealt with her clothing. A shot of concentration, and the molecular structure changed, leaving her standing in a skin-tight red bodysuit with spikes. She frowned. "Not quite what I was going for, but it will do."

"Shazam." Crichton said, eyes wide.

A glare sent his gaze elsewhere, then Rachel grinned wickedly. With a wave of her hand, she changed *his* clothes. "Oh, muuuch better."

"There's a draft now."

"Yes." She waved her hand again, and nodded at this result. "Better. I think I'm getting more control. Again." She frowned at that. Of course, the battle-hardened black leather Crichton now wore was definitely better than the pink loincloth she'd put him into. Almost.

"Again?"

"I used to be able to do this--literally--in my sleep. I once turned my roommate's clothes--well, best not to dwell on that."

Crichton slowly nodded, "You're rearranging the molecules, aren't you."

"Yes."

"So, you could make us food?"

"Not precisely." Rachel frowned, "I think that actually requires, well, food. And a stove."

"Do you burn water?"

"Yes."

"Ah."

"It runs in the family. Mom, well, mom did this too."

"Genetics, then."

"Exactly."

The elevator chimed, and the doors slid open on what appeared to be a part of the parking garage they'd been in earlier. Rachel studied the decapitated monster laying there. The carcass was... moving. Hastily, she slammed the door close button, before her mind could take in more of the mass of wriggling things that had begun rolling towards the elevator.

"Now that just takes away any appetite I had."

"Yeah."

Silence for a time, as tinkly elevator music played in the background. Nausea slowly passed, giving way to hunger again. And boredom. Rachel finally reached out and touched a button on the panel.

"You think that's a good idea?"

"Well... she did offer us dinner."

"As long as it isn't barbecued troll."

--

Longshot was concentrating, ignoring Stark and his garbled ranting. He had once believed this wasn't real. What had changed? Rachel? It worried him that one person could take the game from farce to reality. She shouldn't be able to do that. He tried to remember when he'd first noticed and realised he had always noticed her--perhaps he had only begun to think when Rachel appeared in a small room with no doors.

But he hadn't begun with this game. He had been real, once. It had all seemed so simple then, so amusing.

Until Stark had caught them, delighting in pretending they'd never existed without him even as he raveled their very thoughts and feelings and memories out for his own use. It was an evil use, an obsessive one.

Worse than Mojo, in his own way, Stark was bent on destroying a man.

It would take very little for him to do to Rachel what he'd done to Longshot and... his companion.

--

"Oh, goodie! You're back!" The blonde clapped her hands, "Ah'm tho glad."

Rachel attempted a smile, "You mentioned dinner, I believe?"

"You came back for mah cookin'. Ah'm tho touched." A fake sniffle erupted. "If you just have a theat, here, Ah'll be raght back."

Once she'd left the room, the two gingerly sat on the orange and gold spindly chairs. The dining table was a work of art, if you can call the result of too many bottles of red schnapps of some sort a work of art. Studying the swirls, Rachel was almost certain they had once been blood. The glass covering eliminated any lingering smell, however. She shot John a glance, but he seemed lost in his own thoughts.

More silence, even when the Princess came back with a loaded tray. It was if someone had asked for the silence, needing to think. Or just to try not to think. Or something. Rachel wasn't really sure, she just knew that it was a restful silence.

The food consisted of what appeared to be various fruits and vegetables. Rachel figured quibbling over what it might actually be would be a waste of time. It was good stuff, though.

Crichton's voice broke the stillness. "So, this is a game."

"According to Stark and Longshot, yes." Rachel frowned contemplatively. "I still am not sure how I got here."

With a shrug, Crichton reached over and swiped a piece of her melon. "Perhaps you merely--where did you start from?"

"Earth--well, more accurately, the time stream." She shivered at the memories of that nightmare journey. All of the past, all of the future, and all the in-between bits, shoved straight into her brain like a huge bottle of tequila. There was no telling what it all meant, in the end, she'd just pushed it into a corner. Deal with it later. That's how her mind always worked.

"Earth?" The Princess was watching them, eyes dark. "Ah know that name. It'th a place of evil. Great evil. If you come from there--" She stood, backing away from them. "Perhapth you are not the great heroeth Ah thought you to be."

"I--" Rachel looked away, recalling bouts of selfishness with a sense of loathing. "I am, perhaps, not a hero at all."

"Nobody is a hero. We all just deal with what life gives us." Announced Crichton. "At least, that's what Gandalf said. And he should know, he's one of the Great Wizards."

"Well, Ah don't give him much credence, but Stark says Earth is evil. Full of degenerates who care nothin' but they're own pleasure."

Rachel considered this. "He may be right, in the end. But I wonder how he got such a skewed view of things." She shot Crichton a glance, but he was once again lost in his own thoughts. "Anyway, Princess. Thank you for the hospitality. And the food. However, I really think we should be on our way."

"Yeth."

Pulling John to his feet, she walked back to the elevator. "Incidentally, I was wondering if you knew where the contracts room was?"

"Try the thirteenth floor. Ah think that'th where they're kept."

"Ah." Rachel smiled, "Thank you."

"You're ath welcome ath can be."

The doors to the elevator swished closed again, and Rachel punched the button for the 13th floor. "Do you ever get the feeling that something is terribly wrong, and there's nothing you can do to stop it?"

"Mmhm."

"Like, the sky. Sometimes it falls, and sometimes, it just hangs there, all golden and gray." Considering the lost and far away look in her companion's eyes, Rachel continued, placing her words with care. "And, sometimes, it isn't there at all. Instead, there's a never-ending maelstrom of light and dark, swirling so fast you're not even sure you saw it."

"Yes."

He was looking at her now, his eyes slowly focusing.

"Energy grabbing you, tossing you, turning you--but you can't affect it, manipulate it, move it."

"I couldn't even fly straight." He whispered.

"You've seen the vortex, haven't you."

He shook his head, "A wormhole. I fell through one. Or two. I don't remember, anymore."

"Ah. Is that how you got here?"

"I... I don't know."

Rachel reached out a careful hand, and stroked the skin of his face. "You wouldn't," she said, gently. "In the end, neither would I."

"I'm not sure--if this is a game, and this isn't real, am *I* real?"

Taking a careful breath, Rachel reached out and hit the Emergency Stop button. "I--" But the look in his eyes demanded she be honest. No white lies for this man, no telling him things that couldn't possibly be true. "No. I can't feel a mind for you. My telepathy touches others, but not yours." She looked away for a moment, then looked back at him. "I believe the term is 'breaking your programming'."

"But I am not real." He nodded slowly. "What is this, a new trick? Did the Scarrans put you up to this, little girl? Frell with John Crichton, and see how far you can make him grovel?"

She folded her arms across her chest. "Believe what you will. I still have to figure out this fucking game."

"Oh. Right. What was that verse 'Stark' said to you?"

Pausing for a moment to remember the proper cadences, Rachel repeated it, verbatim, including Stark's odd moment of self-awareness. "I figure it's a stupid riddle, but, since quests generally mean moving..."

"Maybe it's a Peacekeeper plot." Crichton raised his head, looking up at the ceiling. "Do you hear me, Scorpy? No more playing along! Let me out! I quit! This is the end! Finito!"

"Great. Now I have a madman as a companion." With a sigh, Rachel punched the resume button, and the elevator trundled to a stop.

The doors swished open onto an eerily lit room that reminded Rachel of something, but she couldn't place it until they'd stepped out and the lights came up.

"Oh, hell."

--

It had begun with an object. She could remember that much. Small, barely larger than one of her hands, it had lain there in the sand and glittered.

Before she'd had a moment to discover what it was, someone else found it. Laughing, he'd picked it up and squeezed it. Her heart had lurched, her brain had shifted, as he'd simply frozen in place. Barely breathing, he didn't answer when she called. When she knocked him down he merely went limp.

Against her better judgment, she'd reached out and touched the thing for herself. Nothing.

She, dancer among the stars, was suddenly bereft of knowledge about something. It grated at her to watch Longshot breathe in and out. He should have been up, talking, mocking her. Or kissing her? The thought was irritating and impossible. They were enemies.

There was no reason to worry, no reason to care--except that she didn't want their combativeness to end while he slept in the middle of a sand dune.

And so she squeezed, as he had.

Now, she couldn't even be sure she was herself anymore.

--

"Lights, camera, action!" A whistle sounded, and the lights came up on a seashore dotted artfully with the debris of a wrecked ship. The heroine of the piece was draped unconsciously across a towel, her clothing half-ripped, her hair draggled and soaked.

The director waited in the shadows, impatient, as his cameraman zoomed in steadily and the secondary camera was moved by crane to give an angled shot from on high.

A breeze was wafted across the scene, stirring the sand. The heroine groaned softly, moving so as to expose as much of her voluptuousness as possible as she slowly rolled onto her back and opened her eyes. She stared up into the space above the set, as if she saw the sun overhead rather than rafters and cables and coloured lights. "Where am I?"

"CUT!"

The heroine sat up and glared at the tall man striding across the sand towards her. "What?!"

He dragged her to her feet. "That is *not* the way we do things around here, missy!" He shook with each word for emphasis.

Snarling, she kicked at him, her bare feet doing little more than making him laugh. "You bastard! If you gave us any direction, we'd know how things were supposed to be done!"

"HEY!" Rachel Summers strode from the entrance of the elevator, where she'd been standing, watching. "While this seems entertaining, it's not at all productive--PUT HER DOWN!" She lashed out, slamming a telekinetic fist into the director's knees. He buckled, falling backwards, his starlet still gripped in his fists, knuckles whitening around her throat.

She was choking.

Reaching the two, Rachel dropped down onto the man's throat with her knee. There was a sickening crack and he released the starlet. She went limp, falling into Rachel. And sobbing. All over her newly created red leather suit.

"Oh, thank you, thank you, thank you!"

Awkwardly patting her back, she tried to separate from the starlet, "You're welcome, I guess." Grimacing as the overly kinked red hair nearly got caught in her mouth, she tried to stand.

The hands clinging to her didn't let go.

"Miss, I really--"

A hand clamped onto her ankle.

"Oh, that wasn't nice. That wasn't nice at all."

Rachel had no time to answer, as the body underneath her moved, impossibly shoving her backwards to slam into the sand as the woman on her chest giggled softly, her lips tickling Rachel's neck. "She could taste good."

"I don't *think* so." Shoving, she found that the hands were nearly claw-like, resisting being removed. "Don't make me hurt you."

"You couldn't."

"CUT!" It was Crichton, stalking across the sand, angry. "No more. This scene is over, finito. Time for a new one--" He glared upwards, "You hear me, Stark? NO MORE! Jool, let Rachel go!"

Before she could do anything to free herself, the sand moved, and she found her head being slammed into something very hard. Everything went black.

--

So simple a task, to break them. So easy, to mold them. Stark had been happy as a clam to have two minds to play with. Even the dancer's grace hadn't kept her safe. He'd found the key, the crux to her soul, and used it.

Longshot had had to watch as she shattered, body breaking to a thousand million pieces. Hysterical laughter from Stark as he slowly rebuilt her--his Pygmalion.

But even with that, she was strong. And she broke free of Stark, running far away. He didn't release his hold on her mind, but he was content for a time to let her free. Besides, Longshot was much more fun to exploit. An entire world of generals, a pantheon of princesses, all for Stark's amusement.

--

Rachel was barely awake before she found those hands still on her. She shoved out with her telekinesis, "Get *off* me!"

"Ack!"

"Crichton?" Opening her eyes, she stared, feeling the wind filtering past her. "Oh, dear." Above her, John was still clinging to a spar of rock. Below her, the ground was rushing upwards.

"This isn't real... Oh, fuck, it is." Throwing out her arms, she wrapped a telekinetic field around herself, and floated. Pushing carefully, she made her way back up to her companion. "Um. Hi. Again."

"Hi." His voice was muffled, his face turned to the rock as if he were desperately trying not to notice the open air below his dangling legs.

"So... This was the new level we got sent to."

"Uh-huh."

Reaching out, she wrapped an arm around his waist, extending her telekinetic field. "You gonna let go of the rock?"

"No. It's a very good friend, is my rock."

"I see." Shifting slightly, she peered at his still-averted face. "I didn't injure you, did I?"

"You... could say that."

Trying to recall that half awake shove, her eyes widened. "Oh. I'm terribly sorry."

"Not--your fault." He finally looked at her, "Should've known you'd be on auto-pilot when you came to. And dropped you down the chasm."

"How touching."

"I think so." A hand reached out to touch her. "You're real, aren't you?"

She frowned at him, "You're not still insane, are you?"

"I don't know, darlin', am I real?"

"No."

"Then I'm insane." He half-laughed, then sighed and released the rock. "Where to, now?"

"I don't know." Rachel flew them slightly higher and looked down below at the barren landscape. "This isn't familiar to me. You?"

"No."

"It's MojoWorld."

Rachel whirled, turning them both towards the voice. It was vaguely familiar, but so weary as to almost sound full of pain. "I--Spiral!"

The dancer nodded carefully. Two of her arms were in slings, another was covered in bandages. "Well-met, Starchild." She moved as if there were worse injuries covering her body.

Narrowing her eyes, Rachel moved herself and Crichton to a rock ledge. "Well me, Spiral? When your master continually sends you to wreak havoc and do his bidding on those I love? I think not." She frowned. "And why the hell do I sound like a badly scripted romance novel?"

"It is Stark's influence," Spiral replied. She sighed. "I am not here as your enemy, Starchild."

"Then you're here as my friend?" Smiling brightly, Rachel stepped away from Crichton. "I so believe that. Really."

"Not to interrupt what's sure to be a wonderful cat fight, but could we maybe move to something less precarious?"

Glancing at Crichton, Rachel shrugged. "Certainly." Grabbing him in a telekinetic fist, she dropped him off the side of the ledge, controlling his descent until he'd landed on the ground far below. "Now, Spiral, where were we?"

"THAT WASN'T WHAT I MEANT!" John's voice drifted upwards, infuriated.

Leaning over, Rachel snorted. "I thought you didn't believe in any of this?"

"I DON'T!"

"So why do you care?"

He was silent, then, and she turned back to Spiral. The eight-armed woman was looking amused. "You handle him much better than either I or Longshot ever did."

Rachel raised an eyebrow. "So he does know you."

"Not precisely. He's a part of this game, unrealised in his own self. For every player, he resets. Until you, I think."

"Ah."

"We haven't much time, Starchild. Even now, Stark is moving to stop me." For a moment, as if her words presaged doom, the plain below them rippled. Crichton gave a startled shout, but was silent again. Spiral held out a sword to Rachel. "He has sent you after the Key. The Prince of Luck. And told you of Contracts. You know the answers to his riddle, if only you would see."

"I do?"

"Yes. Take this sword. It may help. It may not. I--" Her face twisted as if sudden pain were assailing her, and she cried out. "I must go now. Fare thee well, Starchild!"

There was a ripping, tearing sound, and Spiral screamed, her voice full of such pain that Rachel nearly cried out herself. And then the dancer of probabilities was gone, swallowed whole as if she'd never existed. But her scream was still echoing in the hills.

She stared at the sword in her hand, the light flashing it, catching the etchings around the hilts. What the hell was she going to do with a sword? And what had Spiral meant--that she knew the answer?

"HELLO UP THERE!"

Peering over the edge, she saw Crichton waving at her, and called down, "This is a game, remember?"

He crossed his arms and glared.

With a sigh, she hopped over the side and glided down to him. "Now. Remember what I said? This isn't real."

"Except that it is, if you're right. If I'm not stuck in some delusional dream." He considered. "I haven't seen Harvey, recently. Maybe this really isn't real."

"That," said a voice, "Is enough of that." Majordomo stepped out of mid-air and smiled. "I believe, John Crichton, that it's time for you to die."

"Harvey!"

"No, Harvey was the other one," Majordomo corrected. He pulled out a snub-nosed blaster and pointed it at Crichton. "Now, you're going to tell me exactly--"

"Oh, haven't we been here before?" Demanded Rachel as she slammed the creature against the rock wall, stripping his weapon away. "And last time, I shot your doppelganger. If you don't have anything useful to say, shut up, or I'll do the same to you." She turned to Crichton. "I don't know how I got here. I fell out of the time stream, I suspect. If this is a game, *I* am the only thing in it that's real, aside from its internal programming."

"We seem to keep having this conversation," Crichton observed.

"Maybe it's an important one."

Majordomo shifted, "Come now, John, certainly you don't believe this girl? After all we've been through, you'll throw me over like a cheap pair of socks?"

"Shut up, Scorpy."

"Huh? Scorpy?" Rachel blinked at him. "I thought his name was Majordomo."

"No. This is Scorpius. He's in charge of the bad guys, the Peacekeepers."

Something niggled at the back of Rachel's mind, but she couldn't reach it before it ran away again. "Who was the other man I shot, then?"

"That was Harvey, a neural clone Scorpy put in my head."

"And the man in the Fairie Town?"

Crichton shifted, "D'Argo. The woman who was the starlet was Jool. And you broke Crais' neck when you landed on him. Zhaan, too."

"All people you know. I, of course, knew the war wolves, Longshot, Majordomo, and Spiral. I suspect the movie studio was something I knew--or was expected to--as well." She ticked off things on her fingers as she went, "I think, Mr. Crichton, that this 'game' was created from your memories. Or your mind. I'm not sure which. I suspect that it was created by Stark--which explains why he's the lead in all of this."

"But not all of this is my memory."

"No. I think it's from Longshot and Spiral. Or one of them, with the other being a construct, like you are." She took a deep breath. "I'm going to try something. I meant to, before, and forgot. If... well, just don't let me fall over, or anything."

She didn't let him answer. Closing her eyes, she reached out with her telepathy, seeking that mind she had felt so long ago. It was hard to find, blocked away from her, wrapped in the game. But find it, she did. Gently, she touched it, sending a careful hello.

A wave of surprise washed over her followed by something else, and 'stepped' back, gaining perspective.

::---no! Wait!:: The mind was gibbering at her, that one thought clear, though.

She waited.

::I. Hel-lo.::

::Hi.::

As if gaining confidence, a complete sentence (and more) came this time. ::My name is... funny, I've forgotten my name. Who are you?::

::Not important. Do you know where you are?::

::I.... no.::

Frustrated, Rachel shifted her mind closer, ::But, don't you remember?::

::No. Oh, dear, I must go--::

Reeling, Rachel pulled her own mind back as something swamped its way across the astral plain of the game. She came back to her body to find herself in rather less comfortable circumstances than before. Her head was bouncing sideways, while most of her was draped over Crichton's shoulder. "Ow."

"You're saying ow? What about me? These spikes hurt!"

She pounded a fist in the small of his back. "Put me down, damnit."

"Can't." He replied shortly.

With a soft curse, she pushed upwards and stared behind them. The sound that had first seemed to be the sound of Crichton gasping for breath wasn't. Five war wolves were happily stalking them, playing.

"Put me down. I can deal with them."

"Maybe." He didn't slow, "And maybe Stark will change the rules."

"Fine. Be that way. I thought you didn't believe this was real?"

"It isn't."

"Wonderful." Wrapping telekinesis around them, she shoved off from the ground. Crichton continued running for a moment, then stopped as his feet encountered air. Behind them, the war wolves made discontented noises, and jumped upwards. "Oh. Oh my."

"Now what have you done, flying witch?"

"The war wolves can fly."

"Oh, that's just great. That's fantastic. What're you going to do for your next trick, have them shoot fire out their asses?"

Rachel snickered, "I doubt it. I do, however, think it might be time to try something different."

"How?"

She didn't answer, merely picked up a piece of the mountain they were flying by and dropped it on the war wolves. There was a satisfying crunching noise, and they were suddenly quite alone in the air.

For about ten seconds. Then two more war wolves burst into the air, crying and lamenting their lost siblings.

"Well, damn."

Crichton grunted and moved, pulling her back in front of him. "This is much more comfortable."

"I can't see anything."

"Oh. Sorry."

A bit more shifting, and she spotted the wolves nearly on them. Another swat with a mountain took the two down, burying them in rubble. "I think we need to get out of here."

"Where would you suggest we go, Mars?"

"Not quite so far." Rachel set them down on the plain and looked around. "I think here will do. I touched another mind, earlier. I think it's the person that gave Stark all of the MojoWorld pieces he's playing with." She shook her head. "It felt familiar, but I'm just not sure who it was."

A walrus flopped on the ground next to them and barked disgruntledly. Rachel stared at it.

Crichton laughed.

The walrus barked angrily, shuffling towards them.

"Now I've seen everything," Rachel muttered. A cold nose nudged her, and she jumped, staring down at the suddenly there walrus. "Uh..."

It nudged her, aiming towards her torso and pushing. She stepped back, and it followed, half-hopping, as if it wanted to sit in her lap. Pushing at it, she looked at Crichton, who was still laughing. "I could, uh-- Eek!"

The squeak was all the air she had left as the walrus knocked her over and pounced.

Before getting it off and tossing it several hundred yards, Rachel felt something she did not ever want to feel again. At least, not from a walrus. "GAH!"

Crichton had sat down to laugh harder, rocking, his arms around his knees.

"You're no help."

"I--" he looked at her, then went off into a fit of laughter again.

She glared, then glanced down at herself. She had paw prints and nose prints here and there. And something vaguely white. "UGH!" A wave of her hand, and the molecules were extinguished, leaving her in nothing but red leather again. "Bastard."

"Me or the walrus?"

"Both of you."

More chuckles came from him, then he sighed. "I guess this really isn't a Scarran dream, or Peacekeepers playing with my mind, is it."

"No."

"Then let's get this problem figured." He stood and pointed at her. "You're on a quest to break the contract of the Prince of Luck with a Key."

"Essentially, yes."

"I think," he said slowly, "that *I* am the Key."

--

"HOW?!" Stark's voice howled in the workshop. More pieces of metal went flying as he ranted and raved.

"Maybe." said the head of Crichton on the screen, "She. had. help."

"Help? From who? That Spiral bitch? I think not." He slammed a fist into the desk. "And Longshot and the other are well locked up and guarded. No. She is merely good at influencing others to think for themselves. Look at Longshot himself. *Helping* her."

"Yes."

"Well. We'll see about that. My lady fair shall NOT win this day. She shall rue it."

--

"What do you mean, you're the Key?"

Crichton ran a hand through his hair, "I seem to be the focus--you are, too. But I was the one Scorpy wanted, and Stark hates me for Zhaan's death." He looked away, troubled. "She died for me. He's never forgiven me."

Shaking her head, Rachel sighed. "This doesn't make sense, though. None of it does. What do *you* have to do with Longshot? Hell. What does *he* have to do with this game? It's not as if--" She stopped, then continued, voice soft. "It's not as if he's a part of the game."

"Huh?"

"You're part of the game--and we had some of this conversation before. You're part of the game. So are the people you know. But I, and the people I know, are not. We're extraneous, not supposed to be here. And only I exist." She whirled away, pacing. "The answer is there. You were right, I needed to think. If I could just--"

"I'm not the Key, then?"

"Key." Rachel's eyes widened, "Of course. How foolish of me."

"Ye-es?"

She turned to Crichton and half-smiled. "I'm sorry. But I need to do this."

"What--oh. Wait. Put the sword away, little girl."

"I realise this is going to hurt--you certainly more than me. But I need Stark." She swung, the sword scything through the air and gently lopping John's head off.

For a moment, it hung there, still attached. He was still looking at her, shocked. And then the head fell, bouncing when it hit the ground. The body followed a moment later.

"'Ere now, wot's all this, then?"

She glanced at the man trundling towards her. "Mojo."

The giant slug-like creature glared. "Starchild. You escaped. Now you're back. Oh, my ratings!"

Hopping into the air, Rachel sliced downwards, and Mojo slid into halves, both sides still yammering about ratings and programs. Her next opponent was D'Argo, and he went down faster than John had. Then Scorpius, then Majordomo, then Zhaan. Rachel smiled sadly at her. "I'm sorry."

"Do what you have to, child."

She made it quick, catching that graceful body as it fell.

And then Longshot was there, staring at her. "How could you?"

"I have to see Stark."

"You can't."

Rachel stepped towards him, touching his face. "I will. I'm sorry." She began to swing the sword at him.

"Wait!"

"Why?"

He stepped towards her. "You're supposed to free me, Rachel. That's the goal of the game. Remember?"

"But I'm not playing the game."

Surprise crossed his features. "I don't understand."

His head didn't bounce. It sort of settled lightly next to John's. She looked away from it, wondering if the plain ever ended.

A wind smashed into her, sending her to her knees, and Stark was there, angry.

Triumphant. "I have defeated you, miserable woman!"

"You have?"

He nodded, manic grin flashing. "You'll kill them all. And you'll lose."

"I make this nearly all." She pointed the sword at him. "What happens if I kill you?"

"Why, nothing."

"Nothing?' She asked mildly.

"No. Nothing."

"Ah."

The movement of the sword through the air seemed sluggish, but she ignored it. Stark was probably more surprised than any of the others had been.

A silent thwump echoed across the plain, and it felt as if it had dropped several feet. Rachel dropped to her knees as it rolled, as if fighting against something. Once it had stopped, she stood again and looked around.

The pile of bodies and heads was gone, as if they never had existed.

In their place was featureless plain, brown sand swirling here and there in dust eddies. And a woman. Her clothing was splotched and faded, as if she'd been there for a long time.

"Hello, Dazzler."

The blonde woman turned and looked at Rachel. She was sad, defeated. "You've found me."

"You could say that."

Her shoulders hunched, Dazzler sighed and knelt. "I suppose you'll want to kill me, too."

"Not really. You see, I know something you don't. You're not real."

"How can you say that?" Dazzler demanded. Alison Blair had been a lovely woman, before the ravages of pain and suffering had dulled her blue eyes to smoky gray, and her blonde hair to lankness. "After all I've gone through."

"Indeed. The trouble is, Dazz, that there's really only one person who could know everything that has been presented here and there, among the twisted bits of Stark's program."

"I don't understand."

"You keep saying that!" Rachel reached up and tugged on a handful of her own still-blonde hair. "Every time I encounter you, encounter any of the pieces in this game, you all say that, at some point."

"But it's--"

"No. It's *not* true."

"I--"

"Listen to me, Allie. This place only exists as a computer program. Every mind that enters it is affected, in one way or another. Except mine." Rachel paused, considering, "I fell in here, from the time stream. My mind was not connected in the same way."

"And?" A guarded look had covered Dazzler's face.

"The game tried to rectify that." Reaching out a gentle hand, Rachel touched Dazzler's shoulder. "You're not real, Dazz. None of this is real. I told myself that from the beginning."

Dazzler remained mute for a moment, and then she changed, body and face becoming Spiral. The dancer blinked in confusion, then was gone, swallowed into the face of Longshot. He, too, blinked and then was gone. The woman left in their place stared at herself, uncertain.

"Hello, Rachel."

"This--" And then she simply winked out of existence.

"Doesn't exist, yes."

The plain was empty now, save for one Rachel Summers. She stood there a moment, watching the dust swirl around her feet, the impressions a pair of knees had made quickly obscured.

And then she, too, was gone, swallowed up into the time stream, lost to sight and sound. And sanity.

For a time, the plain remained. Then a flower popped into existence followed by a tuft of grass. Metal clanked, and Stark stood there, staring. "But I do exist, Starchild. I do."

"No you don't, Stark." The voice sounded weary, and the computer-generated man turned to smile at his new companion.

"She never figured it out, my toy. Isn't it too wonderful?"

Longshot failed to smile at this 'wonderful' news.

"You are mine, forevermore. It is brilliant, is it not."

"No."

"Don't pout so."

The luckiest man alive turned away from his tormentor and began walking across the plain, his feet kicking up dust balls. "I'm not..."

-finis-