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A short story by

Matthew Maxwell

"We use a PPO: pathogenic prionic organism. The PPO infects the hydralisk and genetically 'tricks' the host into growing a new cerebral lobe. This lobe allows for outside control by my system. This is all covered in the—"

"Boscrap," he said dismissively. "Utter boscrap. That's a pipe dream that the UED tried to live out through Project 'Black Flag.' Nearly killed us all. Maybe you were too busy in your books to notice."

"It's not boscrap. Black Flag was upside down."

She dropped her remote console on the steel table in frustration. "The UED tried to force a new top-down control scheme on organisms that have been evolved to follow their own hive controllers for perhaps millions of years. A completely different approach is needed for this problem.

"I've proposed a bottom-up solution, hitting the zerg where they are weakest: at the individual level."

Her irritation robbed her of her manners. "Let me make this as basic as I can for you."

The cigar ember above her glowed in sullen response.

Her fingers danced on the console, and the monster rolled off the table, not with an involuntary jerk but with a smooth and fluid motion, repulsively graceful.

"He won't listen to his queen. But he will do what I say!"

Dennis flowed into a crouching position next to Dr. Loew, dwarfing her. Arms held in for the moment, he waited, coiled in an attack posture.

The people in the gallery started at the display, a clamor of shadows. The questioner held his seat and sucked in his smoke.

She swept out a command code on the console.

Dennis tensed. His arms snapped out and back; he was ready to leap.

"Dr. Loew, we're all suitably—"

"Hold your questions!" she barked.

The motion was quicker than any eye could hope to follow. A rush of umber and glistening skin flicked by as Dennis leaped from the floor of the theater to the observation window on the other side of the room.

He hit the window with the force of a truck. Bony scythe blades scratched at the barrier in a frenzy. Dennis then reared back and slammed into the glass once more, cracking it.

There were screams from the audience. No questions, no rebukes. Only screams. Maybe now they'd understand the degree of control she held.

"Take the target," the questioner said to nobody in particular.

There was a clatter of metallic boots on the tile floor behind her. Four marines burst into the demonstration theater, weapons coming up the instant they cleared the door. Dennis would be dead before he turned to face them.

"No!" Loew shrieked, all pretense of control discarded. "You'll destroy years of research!" she yelled, but she did not put herself in the line of fire.

"Call it off," said the voice.

She nodded silently as she entered a command.

Pushing off with his arms, Dennis leaped back and landed with a meaty slap. He rolled backward, then stood beside Loew at eased attention.

There was furtive rustling from above, trousers and jackets rubbing against one another. An exit door slammed shut.

"Good timing, men," he said.

The marines didn't lower their weapons.

Dr. Loew was spent, trying to disguise her rushed breath, to recover some semblance of composure. She had regained control of the demonstration only to lose control of herself.

"He wouldn't have hurt you," she offered. "It was a demonstration. Watch."

She pulled a surgical probe from her lab coat and pointed it into the hole left open in Dennis's head.

"I could turn his brains to jelly and he wouldn't twitch." She held the position, nearly touching the exposed brain with the probe.

She put the instrument away and turned her back on the creature. Another swipe on the console, and Dennis relaxed in on himself, robbed of energy and impetus, deflated.

"He is no longer a threat to any of us, unless ordered to be."

The questioner's cigar flickered and dodged in the dark. "I've seen enough. Put your pet away, then give my assistants a chance to change their clothes." The orange glow flared as he sucked in hard. "Then we'll talk."

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