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A short story by

Alex Irvine

What I wanted to do was shoot him. Instead I said, "I don't think an ultralisk is known for delicate appetite. They start out wanton and get worse from there."

He sniffed. "So you would think, because your first experience was so confusing. It is your own fault, but you cannot be blamed for thinking as you do. We, however," he went on, spreading his arms to encompass his followers, "understand the purity of the communion. And the two moons are about to reunite. Thus we go forth to seek it again."

Without another word, the scientists processed out just as they had come in.

"Vera," I said. "Two moons unite?"

"You will have noticed that Vygoire has two satellites," she said. I had in fact noticed that but hadn't thought it unusual. "One of them orbits faster than the other, and they appear to overlap once every twenty-three days. That's when van Rijn starts the ritual."

So it wasn't unusual unless you had spores. "And that's today?"

She nodded. "Well, tonight."

It was hard for me to believe that the ultralisk waited around for the twenty-three days to pass. "What do they do in the meantime?"

"Hide," she said. And with a shiver added. "Close together. The spores apparently have an effect on the parts of the brain that predispose human beings to ritual behavior."

"There are parts of the brain that do that?" Haddawy wondered.

"You'd be surprised," Vera answered. "The spores act on them, and that, together with the way they create links among minds... it's unpredictable but very powerful."

"All right. Enough. We're supposed to rescue these fekkleheads?" Jouvert groused. "They don't want rescuing. This is the part where we call down dropships and watch the nukes fall from orbit. Right, Sarge?"

"Not just yet," I said. "We can't get evac if there's an ultralisk running around. The Scion can't make planetfall. Do you want to trust their accuracy from orbit? Doesn't do us much good if they nuke the ultra and take us with it."

There was a brief pause as the surviving marines of Torch Seven fired up their gerbil wheels and reached the conclusion I knew they had to. "So if we don't take out the ultralisk, we don't leave," Iger said.

"That's about the size of it, boys," I said.

"Well, shit." Haddawy this time.

* * *

Now you have it from the horse's mouth, so to speak. Direct testimony. How much longer can we wait?

However long it takes. This could change everything.

You ask me, we should nuke the whole place. Scientists or no scientists, quarantine or no quarantine.

Not a chance. This is too good to pass up. This is not a zerg organism, but it can control the zerg. Do you understand what that means? Not to mention applications in small-unit tactics and God knows what else.

Fine, Dr. Langridge, but if you want me to make that case to Command, we need the rest of Doakes's report. Fast.

Understood. The regular stimpacks aren't doing the job anymore. We're going to have to try something a little experimental.

Try whatever you need to try. As long as it works.

* * *

"Okay," I said. "Here's the plan."

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