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A short story by

Alex Irvine

I thought about it. "Yeah."

"Then you're all infected too."

* * *

You too probably now, Doc.

No, my immunity has held up this far. I'm testing myself every hour.

We're still all going to be quarantined until Command gets a full analysis. Maybe even after that, depending on what it says.

It's a prudent measure. We've got Doakes as a subject affected by the spores, and me as a subject who isn't. Until the reason for that is clear, I'd quarantine all of us too.

Hurry up and figure it out, then.

* * *

There's not a word in the language I hate worse than infected. "Infected by what?!" I shouted at Vera.

"It's just a technical term," she said. "It doesn't necessarily mean anything."

"Dead is a technical term, too. And it means something. Now, what is this fekking spore, and what does it do?" I was thinking of the strange sensation I'd had at the end of the firefight, like a hallucination but more intense. A gateway, it had felt like, into a consciousness so alien I couldn't even quite call it consciousness... Was that the spores? Was I already infected? I could still feel it, a little, like a new space had been opened in my mind, but with something other than me living in it. This put a whole new spin on the mission.

"I'm not completely sure," she said.

"Sarge," Haddawy said. I looked away from Vera, back at him, and saw that while I'd been getting the news that all of us were infested with spores, the lab personnel had shown up. They were in a loose group, all wearing variations on the shredded lab-coat ensemble we'd seen on Vera and the other two. At the center of the group stood the single exception. He was tall and had more hair on his face than on the rest of his head. His white coat was in pretty good shape. And he had carved the crossed-curve symbol into his forehead. The scar stood out against the wrinkles, pink and lumpy as if he'd rubbed something into the initial wound to make sure it didn't heal right.

"I am Gerhardt van Rijn," he said. "You are intruders, and not welcome. Leave Vygoire at once."

"Soon as we get what we came for," I said.

"What would that be?"

"You," I said. "And the rest."

"Impossible," van Rijn said. "We are here for the Great One now. Return my three—"

"No. You don't want to come, that's up to you. But I got wounded marines, and I'm going to get them to high ground and get the hell out of here before the ultralisk comes back. You want to feed yourselves to it, be my guest."

"You do not understand! The Great One is here for us, not we for him. One by one we become part of it, as the merit of each individual permits." Van Rijn lifted his chin and placed a hand, fingers spread, on his chest. "I, of course, will join the Great One only after the rest of my children have made the journey."

"This guy's crazy," Haddawy said, loud enough for everyone to hear. I held up a hand for silence, but van Rijn had already heard.

"You will soon understand," he said. "You will meet the Great One."

"No!" shouted a number of the other lab rats. "Not him first!"

"Patience, children," van Rijn said with a chuckle. "The Great One will not return so soon. It has its own communion to undertake."

I had just figured out that he was saying the ultralisk was infected by the spores too when it came out of the jungle again.

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