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.
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.
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.
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.”
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.
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.”
“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.
“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.
“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.”