Loew hurried to meet the incoming transport. Three weeks into the program, and Garr was making a surprise visit.
As she crossed the yard, she watched the training grounds. A platoon of soldiers nicknamed "Lost Wolves" stood by as the Tamed, led by Dennis, cleared a mock mining installation. The zerg don't occupy buildings, she thought.
Garr beamed as he disembarked into the bright daylight, suit spotless. "I just want to tell you how thrilled the senate, Command, and even the emperor have been with your progress. You should be congratulated, Doctor." He expectantly held out his hand, the first time he'd done so for her.
She took it and found it to be cool and vaguely moist, as if he'd just toweled it off before stepping out of the transport.
His face went slack as he withdrew his hand and pocketed it. "Good, good. Now that pleasantries are disposed of, we need to discuss the situation with the program."
"What situation?" she asked. "You just said—"
"That was this morning. Let's discuss now. Like getting some field-based results."
"We can talk about that right after we talk about my hydras being trained in urban tactics."
"Your vision is limited. We need to plan for all kinds of eventualities. In fact, we've already found a suitable test bed."
She felt as if something had been snatched from her fingers. "Am I not in charge of my own program?"
"The Dominion's program," Garr corrected deftly. "Thys is a vespene-mining colony on the fringes, recently reporting a rogue zerg force moving on the main refinery. Intel suggests the colonists will fall in short order. We want our forces on the ground in thirty-six hours to prevent that."
"You want my Tamed in the field in a day and a half? Against other zerg?"
"Not want but will have. You will be directly observed by the most important members of the Xenobiology Department of Special Research Ops, as well as their military counterparts."
Loew wanted to tell him that it was flatly impossible. She couldn't find the words. It would simply have to be done.
He smiled as he regarded her lack of protest. "Cheer up. This will primarily be a mop-up operation, with only a possibility of sustained combat."
"The mine's managers are… difficult. Malcontents. Rabble, really."
Internal applications, she thought.
"But they're humans," Loew said.
"If it helps, think of them as traitors, Dr. Loew. You know how the Dominion punishes traitors."
Her face drained. "But the entire basis of this program is to protect humans from the zerg! It—"
"The basis of this program is redirection of the zerg to targets of our choosing." Garr lost all traces of warmth, cooling and deadening in a heartbeat. "Should the colonists at Thys turn on us after we rescue them from the zerg, they will become the next test."
"If you use the Tamed on humans, I'll be responsible for any deaths they cause." Dr. Loew clenched her fists so tightly that she couldn't feel them anymore. "My subjects—"
"Your subjects are weapons. Spare me your naivete."
Her anger threatened to consume her. Instead, she grabbed onto the only thing she could: her breakthrough, her genius. Perhaps control was slipping out of her hands, but she would not let it go so easily.
"Very well, Colonel Garr." Her voice was flat, without resistance or tension. This wasn't the moment.
"Do more than say it, or we'll install a project manager who can deliver."
Dr. Loew nodded, feeling the sting of her own fingernails digging into the palm of her left hand.
"Good. Now let's really give our enemies something to fear." He lit a fresh cigar with an antique lighter and sucked in, then exhaled blue smoke.