Post 11: Ilya officially hated space travel.

Ilya hugged herself against the cold, sterile air of what she assumed was Lukas’ sleeping quarters.  He had locked her in as soon as he had cut off communication, and assumed it would be her cell for the duration of her trip. The room seemed empty; nothing but four smooth, blank walls with a low, oversized bench that felt solid when she first sat down, but quickly gave and shaped its cushioning to hug the contours of her body.   She had watched him rummage through a few compartments that slid seamlessly back into the wall, just as the door sealed seamlessly before her when he left.  The room was an opaque gray.  Something about the light that emanated from the walls gave her the impression the color could be changed if he wished.

Staring blankly before her, she passed the hours alternating between needling fear, sudden rages at Cael, then Alberich, then herself, pangs of homesickness and then, often, boredom.

The first time she saw a silver pack squeeze its way into existence through the wall and drop to the floor, Ilya was too scared to touch it.  Hours later, as she began to doze, a second pack dropped down.  Stomach growling, she forced herself to investigate.  The sealed metallic, pack was about the size of her hand.  She was able to tear away one edge and squishing it between her fingers, pushed out a very unappetizing, brown ribbon of paste.  She sniffed it; nothing.

Well, she thought, it’s either this or starve.  If Lukas was going to poison her, there wasn’t much she could do about it.

The paste had a richness to it, but she couldn’t identify a particular flavor.  She sucked down the first pack and hid the second in the pocket of the blue, traveling jacket she had wrapped around her.  With her stomach satisfied, other needs started to demand her attention.  Her thirst she could ignore for a while longer, but her bladder was painfully full already.  She waited as long as she could and was dancing in the middle of the room when she finally had to try to speak up.

“Um…” her voice was small and childlike to her own ears, “I, ah… hate to bother you… Lukas?  But I need to… relieve myself?”  She really hoped he could hear her.  Ilya looked around the small room, helplessly.  “I don’t know if I’m supposed to….”

The wall to her right silently became concave in one spot about a third of the way up from the floor.  The bottom ridge smoothly rounding out a little; not enough to provide a seat, but maybe enough to… Oh.  Ilya tried to suppress a feeling of embarrassment as she wriggled out of her payjama pants.  With the possibility of relief so close, her bladder was about to pop; so embarrassment would have to be dealt with later.  She squat back against the wall and tried to fit herself over the hole as completely as possible.  It took an agonizing moment before she could relax enough, and then let out a loud satisfied sigh.

“Ahh… Bhaga, for the love of all that is good and holy, thank you.”  She felt ridiculous, and hid her face in her hands.  She tried to pull away after finishing but found herself stuck.  “What… Ah!”  She felt a breeze and then a cold flush.

Another breeze and the wall let her go.  She fell forward and pulled her pants back on as quickly as possible.  The wall was flat and seamless when she looked back up again.

Ilya officially hated space travel.

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Post 10: “because that’s what it does. It adapts.”

Cael shook his head.  “Only one floor?  How can you be so sure?”

It was one of the men in the doorway who spoke up.  “Level 3!  They all work Level 3!”  He bolted down the hallway.

“Wait!”  The boss called after him.  The other men exchanged glances.  A few began to follow.

“I said wait!”

“We need to keep calm.”  Cael said weakly as more men pushed passed him.

Soon he and Alberich found themselves caught up in the momentum, and tried not to stomp on any bare feet as they ran. There was so much shouting through the halls, it made it impossible for them hear the boss, who trailed behind.  The hall curved in a gradual arc along the side of the ship until they were suddenly stumbling down impossibly steep stairs.  They reached the 3rd Level hatch just as the men got the locks cleared and were flooding in.

The ceiling was low, like the basement with the water filtration system.  It was exercise hour and about five hundred head of cattle could be seen milling slowly in a great circle.  The mesh floor allowed for manure and urine to fall (or get power hosed) through to the filters without catching the animals’ hooves.  While it helped to keep conditions sanitary for the animals, the smell still knocked Cael and Alberich back once they entered the doorway.  The ring of troughs separated cattle away from the walls and gave the men a few feet to move around room’s edge.  A man, still suited up and dirty, was startled from his dozing not far from the entrance.  The boss shoved his way through.

“Bozhe Waala!  AREY!  Have you been down here the entire time?!”

The man rolled to his feet and stumbled backward.  His eyes darted between the sixty half naked men, blinking hard in confusion.  Finally, he saw the boss step in front of the group.

“I-I-I came here to watch the floor during the emergency!  What’s going on?”

“Why didn’t you come up when the shuttles re-docked?”

“W-What?  What happened with shuttles?”

The nearby cattle, startled by the sudden appearance of so many shouting men, had begun to drown them out with their own bellowing.  The boss slapped the paneled ceiling and shushed everyone.  They immediately quieted down; training overriding their own anxiety, as panic on the floor can lead to trampled, dead cows.

The bossed dropped his voice to a hiss, “Didn’t you hear any communications all this time?”

“I forgot my headcom.  Why didn’t someone come and get me?”

The boss rubbed his bald spot.  “Gah!”  He turned to the men behind him.  A few of them had grabbed the UV lamps.

“W-what’s going on?”

The boss grabbed one of the lamps and turned back.  “Take off your suit.”

“What?”

The men started hissing, “Take it off!”  “Just do it!” “We need to see.”

The man took another step back.  “Arey.  You guys are acting crazy.”

Cael could just barely catch glimpses of the scene in the space between the tops of the men’s heads and the low ceiling.  He cupped his hands around his mouth.

“Forget about him for now.”  Everyone turned to look at him.  “Look at the cows.  That’s what you all came down here for.”

The few UV lamps were passed to those closest to the floor.

The boss spoke up, “Someone by the door dim the room.”

Cael watched one of the infected men by the door pop open a hidden panel in the ceiling.  His eyes met the crouching Alberich.  He was sweating again, breathing hard but still in control.  They both moved further down the narrow walkway behind the men to get a better view of the room.

The lamps were switched on and aimed across the room.  There were several gasps among the men.  All the cows appeared to have splatters and smears of luminescent yellow up their legs, on their faces, and down their hind quarters.

“W-What the… that was NOT me!”

Everyone turned toward the new confused man, and his suit lit up like the sun.

“AAeeii!”  He danced around tearing off his suit, only to reveal more bright yellow stains on his skin and underwear.  “WHAT IS IT?  GET IT OFF!”

“Arey!  Shut up!”  The boss grabbed the dancing man and shoved him to the wall, but he continued to struggle.  “You want to cause a panic?” He hissed, “Shut!  It!”  The man had a wild look in his eyes but he quieted down.  “Good.  Now, when was the last time these phuu’ar cattle were cleaned?”

“I-I-I’ve been down here by myself all day.  I can’t clean the whole floor by myself!”

“Just as I thought.  Someone turn on the emergency overhead showers.”

Another panel was popped open and it began to drizzle over the floor.  Much of the yellow smears dulled, and looked to be rinsing away, yet many cattle still had bright spots along their hide.

“Look at that.” The boss let up off the man he had pinned to the wall.  “I must have been some kind of parasite.”

One of the men he had appointed as a shuttle leader spoke up, “But we’ve been dousing them with the pesticides like all the other levels!  I don’t understand.”  His eyes glowed and bled shiny tears.  “Why us?”

The boss could only shake his head.  “They must have picked it up on the ranch, or at the docks.”

“What’s going to happen to us?”

The boss shook his head again.  “I don’t….”

“They must be destroyed.”  Alberich’s voice boomed from behind the men.

Cael turned to the large man, crouching absurdly in the squat room.  His eyes were focused but unseeing.

“Alberich, what are you remembering?”

He looked to Cael, “Not now.”

He gripped the edge of the trough and leaned on it as he moved forward.  The men instinctually moved back to give him space.

“There is no cure.  There is no pesticide that can kill it.  You must destroy it so quickly, so utterly, it has no chance to adapt; because that’s what it does.  It adapts.”

The men were stepping over each other to move away from Alberich and the infected both.

“Alberich!  We can’t do that.  Never mind the cattle, you can’t suggest the men kill each other?!”

“There is no choice.”

“They’re brothers on this ship.  You heard the boss.  We’ll isolate them.  We’ll get kistes at the next port and put them to sleep until….”

“Until when?!  There is no cure.  Putting them to sleep will not slow the Legion down.  Change the environment, kill the host, it will adapt and survive.  You must obliterate them.”

The infected men had begun pushing their way out the hatch to the stairs, others running down the walkway to the hatch on the opposite side; but still others, uninfected, stayed to listen.  The boss was still shaking his head.

“Alberich, no!  Listen to me!  This is a memory!  A pigeon memory, right?  It’s going to pass like the others.”

Alberich looked back at Cael, his face contorted into an expression of what… disgust? Superiority?  As if talking to Cael was beneath him.  It reminded him of his first conversation with Lukas back on Bhara.

“If you do nothing, everyone will become infected.”  He turned to the boss, “You think these men are still alive, but they are only puppets, pretending to be your brothers until it’s your turn.”

Cael could see some men beginning to nod in agreement.  He reached out to Alberich, “There’s still a chance….”

Before he could react, Alberich’s large hand had Cael by the shoulder and he was slammed against the wall.  He slapped weakly at the tree trunk of an arm, and tried to kick out for leverage, but Alberich could not be moved.  It quickly became a struggle just to breathe.  Alberich turned back to the boss.

“Think about the consequences.”

One of the uninfected men pointed toward the cattle. “Arey!  Look!”

About a hundred cows had stopped the slow walk around the room and were now angling toward the men, seemingly to watch the scene.  Alberich’s voice had been echoing throughout the room, but instead of getting scared off, these semi-glowing animals had maneuvered closer.

“Bozhe Waala… what are they doing?”  The boss stepped back.

“It’s because of him.”  Alberich pointed to the new man they had found down there.  Unlike the other infected men, he had been too confused and scared to run.  “He’s one of them.”

“No!”

“The Legion have been listening through him, and because they understand through him the infected cattle now understand.”

“I… how?!  I’m not doing anything, I swear!”  He began to back away but several uninfected men grabbed him, trying as hard as they could to touch only non-glowing skin.  He cried out.

“No.”  Cael wheezed through the pressure on his chest.  His vision began to dim, but he heard the cattle start to bellow again.

“Do you see?  Do you believe me now?!”  Alberich’s voice grew distant in the darkness, swallowed by the raising panic of the bellowing animals.

Silence.  He could breathe.  Cael jerked himself up into a sitting position.  He was back in the kitchen; his heart raced with adrenaline, his throat, chest and shoulder ached with each gasping breath.   He hid his face in his hands against the harsh, overhead light until the pain behind his eyes subsided.

Slowly, he pulled himself to his feet, and looked around.  The dining hall on the other side of the serving counter was dark with a faint smell of manure and spoiling food.  He noticed a large figure sitting at one of the tables, head down.

“Alberich?”  He croaked.

There was no response, so he walked around the side entrance and into the room.  Cael crept gingerly up to the figure and lowered himself down on the bench next to him.

“Alberich?”

His head turned toward the kitchen light, “Cael?”  His face was a grimy grey, streaked with tears.

“What happened?”

He took in a ragged breath.  “We… I… I convinced all them to hunt down the Legion infected.  They had all run off and were hiding.”  He sniffed and rubbed his face along his arm.  “The men used the cattle prods and the boss even held them at gun point as we locked them into the 3rd level.”  His face scrunched up.  “We should have kept them there, like you said; isolated them.”

“What… happened?”

“We… There’s this switch they can pull in the Ko Thri in case of emergency.  The entire floor, they were able to torch the entire floor at once.  It only took a few minutes, but… the screaming.  That lasted forever.”

Cael didn’t say anything.

“Why did they listen to me?”

“Do you remember?  The pigeon memory, any part of it?”

“No… only that I was so sure I was right; so angry at you for interfering when I knew you had no idea what… I don’t….”  Cael watched the large man break down again.  “Why did they listen to me?  What have I done?”

Cael sighed and rested a hand on his shoulder.  The kurta was damp and gritty.

“We need to look into getting you a clean set of clothes.”  He carefully straightened his posture.  “I could stand a wash myself.”

Alberich nodded and sniffled.  “Everyone’s sleeping now.  You should have the showers to yourself.”

“You’ll be okay by yourself?”

“Yeah.”

He went back into the kitchen and pulled his hard shell suitcase out from one of the lower cabinets.

Cael entered the shower room hugging the suitcase to himself.  He set it down on a nearby bench and carefully began to undress.  He unbuttoned his shirt to reveal bruising that started at his should and stretched across his chest.  He couldn’t see his back, but was sure the bruising extended there as well.  After a thorough shower, using the hanging bar of soap, Cael used scarf from his case to dry off.

Someone had brought back one of the UV lamps to the showers before he had gotten there.  He double checked the hallway before closing the doors and turning off the lights.  It was pitch black, but he closed his eyes as he fumbled with the lamp to switch it on.  Cael looked up to the ceiling and opened his eyes.  He could already see the reflected yellow glow across the ceiling.  He tried to calm himself.  That was to be expected.  Everyone showered in here not too long ago, there’s sure to be some Legion skin cells collecting around the drains.

Cael took a deep breath and looked down.  His heart dropped and then ran off again with a new shot adrenaline.  It wasn’t as bright as he had seen with the other men, but there were definite yellow spots glowing through his skin.

“Shit.”  There were four or five down the front of his torso.  “Shit, shit,” more on his back; none on his forearms but a couple up by his shoulders.  “Oh God,” his legs were just as bad.  He turned on the nearest showerhead and started scrubbing himself again in the light of the UV lamp.  He could see a little glow in the runoff, but the spots remained.  “Shit!  No, please!”  He scrubbed with the bar, then let the soap fall way and began scratching his skin raw.

Something caught his eye and he stopped scratching to look at his spots more closely.  At the center of each glowing patch, he could see a faint scar.

“You have got to be kidding me.”  The roach bites.

Post 9: “Okay then, EYES SHUT! …LAMPS ON!”

The boss led them back down the hall.  At a section they hadn’t noticed before, the wall widened slightly to allow for a hatch in the floor.  It opened to a ladder which dropped them down under the four levels of cattle.  Once his feet reached the floor, Cael ducked his head under the low ceiling.  Poor Alberich had to hunch over with his hands on his knees.

“Are you okay there, Alberich?”

He was breathing heavily but waved a hand dismissively, “I’ll be fine.”

As bad as the manure smell had been upstairs, it was overwhelming down here.  It didn’t seem to bother the boss as he casually flipped on the lights, but the other two had to bury      their noses into the crook of an elbow.  The three men walked around several mammoth sized barrels that hummed loudly to themselves, and made their way to a series of clear pipes.  Already they could see several glowing a bright yellow.

After taking it in for a moment and throwing out a few expletives, the boss pointed to the brightest.  “These pipes run water from the first to second stage of filtration.  These…” he pointed to the ones with a fainter glow, “are from the second to third, and so on until…” he pointed to a pair of clear pipes, “we have the pipes running to the storage container.  That’s good.  That means the filters are working at least.  No Legion in the drink water.”

“Only those undergoing decomposition will glow under UV light.”  Alberich was still breathing hard.  “It’s the Legion you can’t see you have to worry about.”  Cael looked over to see he was sweating profusely.

The boss scratched his head.  “Even so, it’s a relief.”

Cael rested a hand on one of the pipes.  “How do we get to the lamps?”

“I got it.” The boss slid around the side of the pipes and managed to squeeze an arm behind them.  It may have been the way he carried himself, or the way the jump suit hung off his frame, but the boss seemed like a much larger man than he actually was.  Watching him slip and maneuver to unscrew the UV bulbs, Cael realized the man was rather short too; his balding head still a good 6 inches clear of the low ceiling.

“10 bulbs should do it.  When the men get back, they split into groups; cover more area.”

Getting back up the ladder proved to be more of a task with the bulbs in hand.  The boss tucked several into this suit.  Cael managed to climb up with one hand holding two in the other and one more in his mouth.  Alberich struggled the most in the narrow space around the ladder, his sweaty hands sliding off the rungs.

“Damn it!”

A bulb slipped from Alberich’s grasp and popped on the floor below them.

Cael looked at the large man climbing below him.  “Do you need help, Alber….”

“I’m fine!  Just keep moving!  I’m sweating like a pig down here.  Aomph!”  He angrily stuffed the two remaining bulbs into his mouth.

Back in the hallway, Alberich rolled out of the hatch and lay on his back to catch his breath.

“Here.”   Cael gently plucked the bulbs out of his mouth.

“(Gasp) Thanks!”

The boss sighed at the large man as he collected the bulbs from Cael.

“Stay here.  I’ll be back with a couple lamps.”

Cael sat against the wall opposite Alberich, and took the opportunity to drain the last of his flask.

“Alberich….”

They switched to common speech.

“If you ask me (gasp) one more time if I’m okay….”

“Well… then is there anything you want to tell me? “

“Like (gasp) what?”

“As in how you know so much about the Legion.”

“I told you, I don’t know. (gasp)  I don’t know how I know, I just know.”

“Have you thought about the possibility that it comes from your… carrier pigeon memories?”

“Of course, I’ve thought about it!”

Cael waited a few minutes for his breathing to slow.  “Do they feel different, the memories?”

Alberich groaned and pushed himself up to a sitting position.  “They don’t feel any differently at the time.  They come like a regular memory… with a weight to them, a feeling of distance of, of time having passed.  It’s hard to explain.  Sometimes, I’ll realize it’s not my memory, sometimes I won’t until it’s passed.”

“Passed?”

Alberich nodded, “Like a dream the memory comes and then fades.  All I know afterward is that there was ‘a memory.’  I’ll remember the things I did because of it, but I won’t recall the memory itself or why it compelled me to act as I did.”

They heard the boss clomping back down the hall.  They looked up to see him with three emergency lamps fitted with the UV bulbs.

“Arey!  Until the men get back, we each can have one.”

He handed them out and the three men looked at each other before simultaneously turning them on. They looked down.

“UGH!”

“WHOA-HOLY!”

Cael and Alberich jumped up from the floor as it illuminated beneath them in great puddles and footprints.  Cael held his lamp up to the wall to reveal large streaks of bright yellow.

“Okay, let’s everybody keep calm.  This is just dead Legion, right?  The men must be tracking it through.”

Still, they huddled back to back in the middle of the hall.

The boss cleared his throat.  “So, uh… what do we do now?”

“Well,” Alberich stretched his arm down the hall, “you can easily scrub this away.  It’s just the dead stuff here; like I said, harmless.  The problem is finding where the Legion is living.”

“Tracked through….” The boss grumbled.  “That means cattle could have it.”

“Or the men themselves,” Cael chimed.

“Or both,” Alberich’s voice took on a strange tone.

“But how can we tell if we can only see where it’s dead?”

Cael started, “Ooh!  I have an idea.”

The boss jumped.  “Arey!  What is it?”

“It’s in the manure.  You’ve smelled these halls.  The men are tracking manure all through this place.  If the Legion lives in a body, the dead Legion is going to get expelled like any other waste.”

“So, what, we wait around and watch every man and cow take a shit?”

“Ah, well… we could.  OR!  Or we could get everyone to scrub down and look at their skin.”

“Their skin?”

“Yes!”  Alberich jumped at the realization, “the top layers are all dead skin cells.”

“Arey!  Would everyone stop jumping!”  He sighed.  “Check the skin.  That will work for the cattle?”

“Hair and fur is the same way; dead cells.  If any Legion live in the skin or roots of the hairs, we’ll see it.”

The boss made sure everyone on the two shuttles had been briefed of the situation before they finally rejoined the ship.  When the doors to the sleeping quarters opened, Cael could see that they had already ripped all the bedding off the bunks and piled everything into a corner along with the jumpsuits they had been wearing.

Everyone filed through to the open shower room wearing their long underwear. Cael and Alberich took the lamps with them and stood awkwardly by the door. All of the good natured joking had left the men as they showered.  No one had to be told to scrub extra thoroughly.  As each man finished, he pulled on a fresh pair of underwear and walked to the dining hall.   The boss let the men take as long as they needed, a few obviously prolonging the inevitable, but even they had to turn off their showers and head out with the rest.

Cael and Alberich and the boss were the last to arrive.  They found that the 60 men had instinctively formed themselves into a circle that hugged the walls.  Without saying a word, the lamps were handed out to the men at regular intervals.

“Arey!  I want you all to listen carefully.  We stay calm; we’ll get through this safely.  Now, if you have a lamp I want you to step forward and put it on the closest table in front of you.  Don’t, DON’T turn it on, yet!  Come on!”  One of the men had been fiddling with the lamp and shrugged apologetically.  “The switch is right there, but leave it off until I’ve finished.”

He cursed under his breath.  “Now, you all are going close your eyes, and then on my word the lamps go on.  Your eyes STAY SHUT!  I will come around and pull men from the circle.  It may be because you are clean.  It may be because you are infected.  So if I pull you, I want you to stay calm.  You samajhna?”

The men nodded.  Some were hugging themselves nervously while others stood bravely, hands on hips, chin in the air.

“Okay then, EYES SHUT!”  The boss looked around the room to make sure.  “LAMPS ON!”

The men fumbled with the lamps and one by one got them on.  Cael reached over and switched off the main light.

Alberich and the boss both had to stifle a gasp.  Of course, there were streaks and smudges all over the room and tables that were still a mess from the long forgotten dinner, but it was how the Legion manifested on the men that was unexpected.  One man’s eyes and nose seemed to leak florescent yellow; another man had glowing arms and legs with bright veins that crawled up to his torso.  On yet another, it was only the nails and belly button that shined a sickly shade. Cael counted around the room; in all, a quarter of the men were infected.

He and the boss moved quietly through the room.  The plan was to move the infected to the far side of the room and the clean closer to the door.  Cael pulled his sleeves down over his hands before gently grasping a glowing elbow to help a man maneuver around the tables.

They had only isolated half of the men when one that was uninfected started to break down.  The boss went to him next and gently tried to pull him toward the door.  This only caused him to cry outright and pull back.

“No, no.”

“Shut up!” He hissed, “You’re not infected.”

“No! Please!”  The man jerked back and fell into an infected man next to him.  They both opened their eyes, and screamed. The uninfected man jumped back as Cael moved in.

“DON’T TOUCH ME!”

There was more shouting as the men started opening their eyes to the commotion.

“SHIT!”

“GET AWAY!”

“AREY! LET ME OUT!”

“Everyone, everyone!  Stay calm!”  The boss tried to shout over his men.  “DON’T MOVE!”

The clean shoved their way toward the door; violently knocking back the panicking infected.  The boss took out his gun and shot a round into the kitchen where it ricocheted.  The shock of the report in the enclosed space stunned everyone long enough for the boss to be heard.

“THIS IS A DISGRACE!  We are all brothers here.  Back home!  On this ship!  BROTHERS!  This is how you treat your brothers?”  The men looked away as he met each of their eyes.  “This is the time you stand by them!”  He let off a slew of curse words that Cael couldn’t keep up with.

The boss walked over to an infected man who had been kicked to the floor.  His skin glowing in spidery patches.

“Come on,” he grasped the man’s hand.  “On your feet.”

“What’s going to happen to us?”

The boss looked to Cael as he straightened up.  Cael looked back dumbfounded and realized he was looking to him for an answer.

“Um… we are… working on it.”

A man from the clean group spoke up, “So, then now what?”

Cael cleared his throat and eyed the wine he’d left in the kitchen.  “Now we need to check all the cattle.”

“No,” the boss turned to his infected men, each standing apart from each other.  “We only need to look at one floor.”

Post 8: “Could you turn off the microphone? You guys are creeping us out.”

With all of the storage containers and debris floating about, it was going to take a full day of clearing and maneuvering before the two shuttles could reattach to the ship.  Even when they had adjusted their course back for the gate, there was a sizeable cloud of stuff hanging in the way. The men suited up in turns and, using cables to tether themselves to the shuttles, threw themselves wildly into the empty space to collect what goods they could.  Anything else they could get a hold of they would toss out of the way, sending them off into the vast darkness.

The boss left the radio on in flight ko thri; enjoying the howls and jeers from his men.

“One, do, tiin, JUUUMP!”

“WOOOOOHOOhoohoohoooo…. Damn it!”

“Arey! Next time, try aiming!”

Cael was sitting in the copilot’s chair, head in hands, thinking.

“Look at him!  He’s like a dying fish flopping around out there.”

“Damn it!  Damn it!”

The boss had let the pilot take a break.  He looked over and offered Cael a flask. “You did a good job, back there.”

“I don’t know, guys, I think we should throw him back.”

“SHUT UP!”

Cael took the flask, “They think we’re safe.”

“Do, tiin, AAHHAHAAaaiiiii…..”

The boss shrugged.  “Well, I don’t know about your people, but WE’RE safe, thanks to you.”

“Watch it!  Don’t get the lines tangled!”

He sighed and rubbed his face before taking another swig. “Only if I hold up my end of the bargain; burn out the Legion.”

“That again.”  The boss scoffed.

“Hmm.”  Cael took out his own flask and deftly transferred a snip of liquor.

“Trash… nope… broken.”

“One…  Do…  TIIN!”

The boss accepted back his flask and took another swig with an eye on Cael.

“AREY!  What the hell!  You don’t jump on tiin.  It’s one, do, tiin, THEN jump!”

He leaned heavily over the arm of the chair and pointed.  “You believe it, too, don’t you?”

Cael put his own flask away.  “I’ve seen a few things.”

“Don’t tell me how to count!”

The boss laughed and shook his head.  “Forgive me!  Been out here a long time, myself; I’ve also ‘seen a few things.’  This aalaa’ish about demons….”

“The stories aren’t ALL aalaa’ish, and they aren’t demons.”

“Uh huh.”

“Arey! Make way!  I got a big one here!”

“Whoa!  Bet you say that to all the girls!”

“So which stories are true, then?  Not the one about being possessed by demons, then.  How about the one where you start talking to animals? Eh?  How about… the one where the infected change into demonic creatures?  It’s all ghost stories.”

“I’ll get your mother to vouch for me!”

Cael slouched back into the chair.  “Well, I can only tell you what I saw.” He fiddled with the cap on his flask.  “I was moonlighting as a wreckage scavenger once.  There were all of these destroyed fighters and transports and abandoned support craft just floating in a forgotten bit of space, from some,” he waved a hand, “long forgotten battle; so the pickings were good, and safe, I thought.”

“THIS ONE’S FOR YOUR MOTHERRRRR!”

“There was one transport that still had air pressure, which is actually awful when you think about the dead bodies left behind.  Though they were mostly mummified skeletons by the time I got in there, so I guess it could have been worse.  Creepy, though.”

The boss adjusted in his seat impatiently, “So, what, the bodies came back to life?”

Cael shot him an absurd look.  “No.”

“Then what?”

“Roaches.”

“Roaches?”

“THIS ONE’S FOR HIS MOTHER, TOOOOO!”

“Yeah, I kept seeing them darting about from the corner of my eye.  I figured, maybe they were surviving by being little cannibals, you know?  Feeding off each other… otherwise how could they have stayed alive so many years later?

“Anyway, after enough scavenging, recognizing the aftermath of electrical fires, sabotage, meltdowns… it all becomes old hat; and I had never seen anything like what was going on in this ship.  Holes, just everywhere; entire sections of the walls were like lace, there were so many.”

“FOR HIS MOTHERRRRR!”

“Luckily, this particular ship was so basic it didn’t utilize any kind of gravity.  They just needed you to strap in and hold on until they got you where you needed to go.  You had grips and ladders leading everywhere, so I didn’t have to worry about falling through a floor or anything.  And… I remember thinking it was weird that it was only the interior walls that were like this.  I mean, what kind of explosion shoots a million little holes through everything, but then leaves the hull intact?  But… I had been out there for a month already without incident, so what the hell, right?”

He finally uncapped the flask again and took a swig.  “It wasn’t until I pried my way behind my first control panel that I saw just how many of them there were.  I’m talking about a mass, a writhing mass of these bugs just spilling out of the wall. Then one of them JUMPED out at me and landed on my chest.  I, naturally, screamed like a little girl and swatted it off, but then there was another and another one crawling on me; and that’s when I actually got a good look at them.”

The boss leaned in again.  “Yeah?  Did they have little demon horns?  Did they… talk to you, or something?”

“You’re joking, but yes, or… close.  They had mutated.  Some had too many legs, some not enough, though… I don’t know, those could have just broken off.  Some had a sheen that would reflect all kinds of colors under my flashlight while others were practically translucent.  Some had these huge, HUGE wings, and they were all making all kinds of noises.  Whistles and clicks, and hissing… and none of them had eyes, or if they did, they were too small for me to see, and they all had long elaborate antennae, feathered and… delicate.  I got the impression they were trying to figure me out; crawling around, sniffing, chattering to each other.  These roaches mutated into a dozen knew species, and I was completely swarmed, floating in the middle of the room.  They clung to me and flitted around, kind of like the debris around the ship, now.  I kind of froze, not afraid of them, exactly, but afraid if I moved too suddenly, I would freak them out.”

A voice broke in over the radio, “Then what happened?”

The Boss leaned toward the microphone, “GET BACK TO WORK!”

“AWW…”

“You heard the boss!”

“Man…”

Cael fidgeted with the cap again. “They, um… freaked out.  Well, I… they, one of them bit me; which was very startling.  I made sure to have an extremely sturdy suit, since I was expecting to be on my own out there for a while.  Couldn’t be worrying about brushing up against a jagged edge and tearing a life ending hole every five minutes.  But, this bug bit right through to my arm, and, without thinking, I swatted it so hard I crushed it, obliterated it, really.  The exoskeleton disintegrated into this shimmering dust; but there was also this slime… and I very quickly noticed that this slime was eating through the suit.

“So I started freaking out, which caused all the roaches to start freaking out, and then a LOT of them were biting me and drooling holes into my suit.  I don’t remember exactly how I got back to my ship, aside from a lot of flailing and falling through walls, but by the time I made it to the air locks my suit was as lacy as the walls had been.  My skin wasn’t looking to good either.  I stripped right there and flew home in my underwear.”

“How do you know it was the Legion that did that to the roaches?”

“I asked around when I got back.  That long forgotten battle?  That was by design.  It seems both sides contracted mysterious saboteurs and ‘gremlins’ that destroyed the ships bit by bit.  Men started behaving irrationally, stop fighting; start colluding with ‘enemy’ until suddenly there was a third side in the war.  You couldn’t tell who was a ‘spy’ for this third side until it was too late.  Everyone who would talk to me swore it was the Legion.

“The whole war was abandoned.  The two now former enemies worked together to isolate this new group infected by the Legion; and then, once it was over, just tried to forget about it.  Those who would talk about it called it the Cursed War.  Should have known there was a reason no one had hit that field up for scavenging, yet.”

The boss rubbed his head again, “Nice story.  Not sure it really proves you had a run in with the Legion; and I have no idea how this helps you weed them out on this ship, if they do exist.”

“You’re right about that.”  Cael slouched further down in the chair.  “I have no idea what I’m going to do.  If I didn’t have Ilya to worry about, I’d be tempted to forget all of it and find some opportunity to sneak away.”

“The first symptoms present themselves like they would with the flu,” Alberich had been forgotten, sitting quietly in the doorway.  He spoke softly but his voice was deep and it resonated down the hall behind him.  “Fever, aches, weakness… sluggishness; like any regular bug that goes around.”

The boss turned in his seat to look at him.  “No one is sick on the ship.”

“But, then the body stops fighting it.  The cells of the  body… get tricked into creating more Legion like a virus; more and more, and the body runs itself down trying to fight it off as it… it inserts itself among the cells of the organs, glands, nerves, not replacing everything completely. It just seems to coexist with the host cells, the Legion seems to become a symbiont.  At some point the body stops fighting, stops seeing it as something foreign to itself, and the person gets better; or he seems to anyway. … and then the man seems to get a lot better, healthier than before.”

“And how do you know all of this?”

When Alberich didn’t answer, Cael twisted in his seat and looked back at him.  “Have you come into contact with them?”

He gave a thoughtful frown and shook his head slightly.  “I don’t think so.”

The boss let out an exasperated sigh, “You don’t THINK so?  Then how do you know so much?”

Alberich shrugged, “Thought it was common knowledge.”  He gave Cael a look.  They would need to talk later.

“Arey!  Boss?”  One of the men shouted over the radio.

The boss sat up and grabbed the microphone.  “What is it?”

“Could you turn off the microphone?  You guys are creeping us out.”

“I said get back to work!”  He leaned back and flipped a switch on the arm of his seat.

Cael had practically curled up in the co-pilot’s chair as he watched Alberich.  “Does… this… common knowledge say how to detect the Legion?”

“Um… yes!  Ultraviolet light.  The dead cells that get shed away, they’ll glow a bright yellow under UV light.”

Cael dropped his head back to look at the boss.  “You wouldn’t happen to have one of those lying around?”

He stroked his bald spot absentmindedly as he thought.

“The, ah… filters.  Water filters have UV lights in them to kill bacteria.”

“Well then,” Cael rolled out of the seat and stood with only a slight wobble.  “What are we waiting for?”

Post 7: “and it’s going to get . . . so messy out there.”

“Thaet’s enough.”  Lukas silenced the radio.

Ilya tried to muffle a whimper and gently felt at the side of her stinging face.

When he had first come running back from the airlock, Lukas had been sweating and terrified; completely ignoring her as she chased him through the narrow hallway trying to get answers.  Something in the way he walked or the kind of terror she saw in his face, something about the man suddenly screamed murder.  He was going to murder everyone on the ship.

Without thinking, she had thrown herself at the giant man with fists flying, but all she could remember was stunning pain before waking up huddled behind his chair.  She was actually sitting against the hatch that lead to the hallway. The entire cockpit was pitch black with a single window that stretched in an arc before the pilot’s chair. The floating graphics of various readings slid over their view of the long, bulbous shaped transport ship through the window. She had sobbed and pleaded for him to let her talk to Cael as the charges started dropping; now her eyes teared up again from the bright images and she had to look away.  It was almost unreal, seeing the explosions but hearing only silence.

“Ilya?  Ilya!”  Cael held on to the microphone, hearing the static in disbelief.

“What was that aalaa’ish about Legion?  Was that a joke?” The boss reached for his shoulder.  “Was she joking?”

Cael jumped a bit and spun around.  Everyone in room stepped back to give him space.  His eyes darted from the boss to the other men.

“I’m afraid not.”

“But,” the boss turned to his men for back up, “the Legion is just an old wives tale… it’s a ghost story.”

Cael took in a deep breath, “and we’ll deal with that later.  For right now, I think we can all agree that this man believes the Legion is real and that it’s on this ship.  Agreed?”

Another explosion rocked the floor from under them.

“Okay!  Yes!  What do we do?”

“Do?  Weapons!  Guns!  Fight back!”

“We don’t… all we have are the cattle prods!”

“The ship?”

“This is a peaceful system!  Who attacks a ship of phuu’ar cattle?”  Another blast thundered just down the hall.  “I should call for an evacuation.”

“Cattle.”

“What?”

“Yes.  The sleep halls are the emergency shuttles, yes?  Get those detached.  Divide his attention.”

The boss turned around.  “You, hall one; you, hall two; get as far away as you can and keep the radio open for my word.”

Alberich stepped aside as the two men with the cattle prods left without another word.  Cael turned to the pilot.

“Is there any way you can open the main door to the loading dock?”

“I could but there’s no air lock, everything will get sucked out.”

“Good, good.  Yes, do that.”

The pilot looked to the boss.

“What good would that do?”

Cael turned to him.

“The Legion, it’s like a virus, right?  It can infect anything; living, inanimate, anything.  This man has been bombing us for, what, five minutes now?  His ship is not a fighter.  It’s built for stealth, not fighting.  If we overwhelm him with targets, with potentially infected targets, he may back off.”

The boss turned to the pilot.  “Do it.”

Ilya heard Lukas cursing in the silence of the cabin.  She looked up to see that ship was now in three pieces above them.  Two smaller sections spinning off in opposite directions as the main body of the transport dropped away, rotating slowly head over aft with what looked like debris spilling out from the back.  Her heart dropped into her stomach.  He had done it.  He had destroyed the ship and she had done nothing to stop it.

Lukas turned on the radio which opened to Cael midsentence.

“…on the ship; I thought you might like a little sampling of what we had to offer.  Now there are a good number of innocent men down here, and you have an innocent girl up with you.  We all just want to get out of this alive.”

Alive!  Ilya’s despair broke and her head swam with relief.

“Thaere is no getting out of theis.”

“Oh, learned a little Sakhimi?  I am impressed.  Look, I know this isn’t why you came all the way out here.  You don’t have to do this.”

His tone almost took on a chiding quality. “I cannote leit the Legion through the Gate.”

Cael could feel the men in the two shuttles listening to their conversation over the radio.

“That is not your job, Lukas.  Your job is to bring back Alberich, remember?”

“I cannote leit it spread.”

“I hate to break it to you, but this transport goes back and forth all the time.  Whatever you manage to stop here, damage has already been done.”  Cael waited, but there was no response.  “You can’t want Alberich dead.  You can’t, or you would have killed him when you first found him.  So, you have something I want, and I have something you want, right?  .”

“Hae is useless if infected.”

“We just got on the ship, didn’t even leave the kitchen.  I can take care of this.  I give you my word.”

“Your word,” no anger, just matter of fact, “you plaenned a surprise attack aet the air lock.”

“Well… ah, yes; but, I’m sure you could have taken us.”

“Whaet is your plaen now?”

Alberich hissed at Cael.  “How could he have known that?”

He shrugged.  “No such thing as an original idea, I suppose.”

“What are we going to do??”

“I’m working on it.”   He put a finger to his lips and turned back to the microphone.  “I want you to back off.  Let me take care of the ship.  Let these people get to their destination.  I’m sure you can follow us every step of the way.  We’ll make an exchange planet-side.”

“You will try to cheat mae.”

“And you’ll be ready for it.”

There was a pause as Lukas thought it over.  “And if I don’t agree to theis?  It seems so much simpler to end it here.”

“Lukas… please don’t make me start pitching the cattle.  I doubt you have enough fire power, and it’s going to get… so messy out there.”

There was another long pause, but the explosions had long ceased.

“Agreed.”

Alberich collapsed against the doorway and the boss slumped onto the pilot’s shoulder.  Cael was sure the two shuttles were erupting in celebration.

“Can I talk to Ilya?”

Lukas turned to Ilya and nodded his head toward the window.

“Cael?”

“Ilya.”

“I’m… I’m sorry, Cael.”

“No, no.  Don’t… this is not your fault.”

She felt her face again.  “It is… it is, because I came with him voluntarily.  I was going to protect you, but…  he… I tried to stop him and he hurt me.  I was so stupid, I shouldn’t have come…”

Cael bowed and leaned his head against the panel.  He pulled down the microphone.  “Don’t worry about that, now.  Just do what he says.  Keep yourself safe.  I’ll get us out of this.”

“Okay.”

The pilot started.  “He’s gone.  The ship just disappeared.”

“No,” Cael turned to the room, “he’s still there.”