Snake In The Grass

“ dose your head hurt you have flown copilot on most of the missions with me” She said. She was trying not to think about the bug going around. She shook her head and tried to get back on her feet.

“ we can’t afford for me to get sick we still have not found a way to deal with the dragons and...” she muttered trailing off again.

Joseph went to her and helped support her weight. "I think it's too late. I'm going to take you to the infirmary."

Joseph felt find, oddly enough. Crystal had a point. He'd been with her, around her, long enough to have caught this disease. Yet he felt fine. Perhaps this disease didn't effect certain people? It was possible. Still, Joseph was focused on getting Crystal down to the infirmary.

Turned out even more people had showed up there with symptoms. So much so they had to send overflow patients to one of the research labs in the colony, which was where Joseph ended up taking Crystal. The lab had been reconfigured to hold a number of cots. Already a majority of them were occupied with patients being fed drugs intravenously. There weren't even enough doctors on hand. A number of colonist volunteers were tending to the sick.

Again, a sign that some weren't affected. Joseph took note of that.

Soon Joseph found a cot for Crystal and one of the volunteers came by to take her temperature and ask some questions. As this was going on a pair of marines had entered the facility and upon finding Joseph approached him.

"Come with us, Lieutenant." one of them said firmly.

"What's going on?" Joseph asked.

"Come with us, now." The marine said firmly. "Or we will take you in by force."

Joseph frowned and stared at the two marines, they weren't playing around. And both of them had pulse rifles. Joseph merely nodded and was taken back to the Jericho and placed in an interrogation room. After a while, Col. Foster and the strange spook Joseph remembered seeing during the rescue mission with the dragon entered the room.

Foster's eyes were filled with rage. Barely contained. Yet when he spoke it was eerily calm.

"I'm going to ask you this once, and only once, and you better give me a straight goddamn answer..." Foster told Joseph. "Where are the other wildcats?"

Joseph closed his eyes and lowered his head before a small smirk formed on his face. Then he looked back up at Foster. "How'd you find out?"

"Doesn't matter how we did. We know you're the spy, Aldrin. Now tell us what you know and maybe I'll work a deal with you so you don't end up getting the death penalty for selling all of us out."

Joseph chuffed. "What? Life in prison? You gonna keep me in this ship's brig? Or maybe just have me work the mines?"

"Probably be preferable than how I'd intend to execute you. I'm thinking of breaking both your legs and leaving you in the mountains so those dragons up there have an easy meal. Now cut the shit and talk."

Joseph shook his head. "You'd be better off just killing me now."

"Don't tempt me, Aldrin!" Foster's voice raised a few decibels. "Tell me everything you know about the wildcats! How many of them are there? Where are they operating from?"

"Didn't tell me, just in case this happened." Joseph said.

"Tell me where they are, Aldrin. Now!" Foster roared.

"I've got nothing to say to you." Joseph looked away from Foster.

"Then tell me, why?" Foster said, his voice softening. "Why sell us out? I know you, Aldrin, you're a good man, a good soldier. Why... why did you sell us out?"

At this Joseph's features twisted ever so slightly. "You know they promised me a lot for selling out the Jericho. A villa in the most pristine area this planet has to offer, and a full staff of loyal, broken, slaves. My pick, anyone I want. All to divulge the details of the ship's crew and the colony. Feed them information so they could come up with an effective strategy for the inevitable raid."

"Did you give them the star charts for this planet?" Matsunari asked.

Joseph shook his head. "No... they knew about Dragoon around the same time we did. They've got informants working on the inside, so they know where new colonies will be established. They send a small group ahead, practically shredding their FTL drives in the process, to establish a base while a larger group gets sent around the same time the colony ship is launched."

"Where are they, Joseph?" Foster asked. "Where is this wildcat ship at?"

Joseph shook his head. "They said if I complied I could live, be free... that it was better than the alternative. No one would know for fifty years or more... We'd be out on the far edge... No one to answer to. No law... They were coming no matter what... I just didn't see any way..."

"You can make it right, Aldrin." Foster said. He could sense the guilt Joseph had. If he could exploit it... "You're still a soldier, a member of this colony, and you have a duty to protect it and its colonists. I just need know know everything you know."

Joseph slumped into his seat. "It's too late. They're coming... They're coming to take Jericho..."

Matsunari looked to Foster. "Colonel. I suggest we take this to the next phase..."

Foster frowned and looked to Joseph one last time. "Please, son. Don't make me do this."

Joseph meekly looked up at Foster. "I've said all that I'm going to say to you, Colonel. Do what you want with me..."

Foster sighed and nodded, then he looked to Matsunari. "Permission granted, Mr. Matsunari. He's all yours..." Then Foster turned around and left Joseph alone with the android, who started to walk around the table towards him as Foster exited the interrogation room...

---

"Seven more of our guys haven't reported in." One of Novak's men told him over the radio. "No sign of them, they just look like they've disappeared out of thin air."

Novak pushed air though his nose and grimaced. "I want you to arm every miner we have, I don't care if they have to modify plasma cutters and rivet guns, I want everyone armed and on alert. No one goes anywhere alone. Use the buddy system, everyone watched each other's backs. These fuckers are trying to lower our numbers."

"Understood Mr. Novak." The radio shut off.

Novak went to his desk and produced a snub-nosed 2019 model blaster. Designed to take down rogue androids, it had a lot of stopping power. Novak slipped the blaster into a pouch strapped to his belt and practiced pulling it out as fast as he could. It'd been a long time since he'd ever felt the need to be armed. Even in this business.

Then he got a call, it was from Jericho's Landing. Much to his surprise it was Col. Foster.

"I want to thank you for sniffing out our spy." Foster said. "A man like you, in your line of work--and I know now what that line of work actually is--it was risky."

"It would've been more risky not to. Wildcats aren't to be trifled with, Colonel." Novak said.

Foster audibly sighed over the radio. "I know, and with this damn plague we've got hitting us we're in no shape to fight."

"I'm aware. A lot of my men have fallen prey to this disease. Any word on a cure?" Novak asked.

"I've got the medical science team looking into potential treatments. The xenobiology department is trying to find a local cure, if there is any, but it's a big planet and this sickness works fast." Foster sighed. "We've already lost Captain Miller and well over forty others."

Novak thought for a moment. "Might I suggest something?"

"You an expert in alien diseases too?" Foster asked.

"No, but when I was younger I used to run an insurance scam involving waking people who were put into cryo to wait for life-saving medical treatment. If this thing kills fast we could save more lives by putting the sick back into cryo until we find a proper treatment."

Foster didn't respond for a few seconds, but finally said. "That's actually damn ingenious. I wish we'd have thought of that before..." He didn't say the rest of that sentence, but Novak knew how it ended nonetheless. "I'll order the medical teams to move the sick to cryo. At the very least, it should buy us more time."

"You're welcome, Colonel." Novak smiled. "I also have men out in the field who have gathered a number of plants and animals who may have potential medicinal properties. I'll have them work with xenobiology."

Foster chuckled. "I guess crime does pay..."

"In this case, crime may do more good than harm." Novak chucked too. "Best crime you can commit, in my opinion."

"I'll let Lovell know he's got some guests coming to help." Then Foster paused. "Shit I don't know where Lovell even is..."

---

Lovell continued to look over the DNA payload his newly developed retrovirus would be delivering. Synthetic DNA strands developed to operate as those found inside the dragon's cells were now mingling with the DNA of human cells immersed in the metamorphose fluid cocktail Lovell had also personally developed. They were looking promising. The DNA was being added to the host cells and signs of metamorphosis were taking place.

However, Lovell wasn't absolutely sure how it would effect a live subject until he tested it on Madison. His personal AI projected some radical changes would take place, but that the changes would leave her intact. But simulations didn't equate to an actual test. However, the data was pointing Lovell in the right direction as far as he was concerned. Madison would wake up as the new member of a new human species. Homo draconis, a human capable of living and surviving the harsh world of Dragoon.

Madison was already in the cryo pod as Lovell felt keeping her in suspended animation would help slow the disease's progress. He'd start the procedure once he was satisfied with the results of the umpteenth simulation...

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