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A short story by

Alex Irvine

"Next for the Great One!" the captive cried, spraying bloody spit everywhere. I'd opened my visor to interrogate him, and I regretted it.

I took a step back. "You worked at the lab? With the doctor?"

One of my noncoms, Corporal Blodgett, said, "Our info on the lab says that Gerhardt van Rijn was the director. Also, Sarge, what about Twohy?"

"What about him?"

"The running down the ravine, shooting into the trees and screaming."

I saw where he was going. Twohy had gone nuts and run straight into the ultralisk's blades. Now we had three lab rats who sounded like they wanted to do the same thing, if that was what they meant by "next for the Great One."

Something was way out of whack here.

"Take us to him," I said.

The woman, who hadn't said a word until then, spoke up. "Wait. You're in charge?"

"He's in charge," Blodgett said.

She took a step toward me but stopped when the motion got six C-14s aimed at her. "I need to talk to you," she said.

"So talk," I said.

"It's—just us," she said. She looked scared, but not of me. "Please."

Some of the men snickered. I knew what they were thinking but didn't bother to address it. "Step over here," I said, and led her a short distance away. "Okay. Talk."

"My name is Vera Langridge," she said.

"Okay, Vera Langridge."

"I was one of the lead researchers at the station. We were looking into the aftereffects of zerg creep on an ecosystem."

"Okay."

"That was when we found out about the spores."

It took me a second to catch up. "The spores mentioned in the lab reports?"

"You saw those?"

"We searched the lab before coming down here. What about the spores?"

Vera looked back toward her two pals, still surrounded by marines and blathering about how they had to get back to the doctor, and had to be next. "You don't understand!" one of them said to a marine who looked like he had no interest whatsoever in understanding.

"I'm immune to them."

"Immune?" The word set off a chain of associations in my head. "What do they do?"

"I'm still trying to figure it all out, but... oh, no. You and your men. You've all had your faceplates up since you were here?"

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