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A short story by

Alex Irvine

I looked down at myself and noticed that one of my legs was pointing in a bad direction, the armor bent and broken around the knee joint. The ultra's nails, each as thick as my wrist, had gashed the surface in a twisted sunburst pattern. "You stepped on me," I said to the ultralisk.

It didn't answer. It was too busy dying. I fell on my side and slapped at my Pig. "Torch Seven," I said. Or I think I said. "Torch Seven calling for communion."

I meant to say extraction. But the Great One's dying... thoughts? ...were starting to speak for me.

Yeah. That was the spores. I don't know how they work. I'm just trying to tell you what happened so that you can turn this ship around and burn that fekking ball of jungle and contagion before it gets anyone else. Spores. You can't see them. I've got them. How do you know you don't?

How do you know Vera isn't carrying them, just because she doesn't get the communion? Let me tell you the rest of it. No, no, no, don't give me another shot. Don't...

I got her on the ship. And the rest of Torch Seven. Thirty of us went down; nine came back. Where are the rest of my men?

I'm about to go to sleep. Vera, Vera, don't let them...

Great One. I can hear you.

* * *

He's raving again. Is he going to survive the trip? And are there any surviving lab staff? We'll need data.

We've got plenty of data right back there in the med-bay. I've already told the medics to stabilize only. We're not going to purge the spores.

Dr. Langridge, you are the only one who is immune to the communion spore.

So far.

Doakes is on life support. He's calling for you whenever he's conscious.

I told you: he's in quarantine, and that's hard when the spore is active. Once we can get him to a secure facility in a civilized part of the sector, we can...

You have a sample, you're saying? You have enough to do what you want to do?

Commander, I'm under strict orders to—

Dr. Langridge, I have no interest in your orders. Whatever you do with this spore, you're going to do with the amount Doakes is carrying. Scion is nuking Vygoire as of now.

Commander, I must insist—

Dr. Langridge. You mentioned orders. Who from?

I'm not at liberty to say.

And you just happen to be immune to the spores? While you're researching them on orders you won't tell me about?

It's time for this conversation to be over, Commander.

He just asked a good question. Where are the rest of his men?

Taken care of. Now, as I said, this conversation needs to be over.

That guy in there fought an ultralisk. For you.

For me? He's a marine. He did what he was told. Just like I am now. This is much bigger than him. Much, much bigger. He's a carrier now. That's all. You may make your report to Command. Tell them Vygoire is no longer a problem, and tell them to have a lab ready for me when we return.

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