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It was an eerie feeling wandering the hallway from the command centre, but Dean needed to see Francesco, it had been an hour since they last saw each other, and already events had developed beyond their last conversation.

Normally on a Thursday night at that time the hallways were a buzz with people, but since the announcement, it had quieted down.

Outside the infirmary however he found a que of people. Most were wearing makeshift face masks. They all seemed either terrified or aggravated.

“Are any of you truly sick?” Dean stopped at the que prompting them to turn around and immediately after recognising him assume composure. “If you haven’t been to gamma, haven’t been in contact with anone who was on gamma in the last two days, get the hell outta here! This is no time for hypochondriacs!” Half of the que saluted and shuffled off at various speeds. It had been the aggravated crowd mostly that was just standing there hoping to get a clean bill of health.

Once inside the infirmary the que continued, again Dean told them to leave if they had no real reason for concern, and eased the nurses and doctors work.

“Frank, these people are nuts.” Dean entered his friends office, finding Francesco going through some data.

“Rightly so. The implant isn’t working against that virus. On the contrary.” Looking over his shoulder to the door Dean wished he had stayed in the command centre. “Don’t tell me the implant is getting infected too.”

“Sort of. At least in this one incident it was. I don’t know what had happened exactly, but the implant completely ignored the virus, and later tried to bring the brain dead body back to life by jolting the nervous system.”

“Why did he bite Doctor Khan?” Francesco shrugged shoulders. Both had seen the footage recorded.

The corpse jolted from the table and bit clearly in the hand of Dr. Khan with which he held the scanner over the body. Afterwards he fell back on the table.

“Accidental reflexes?”

“In any case,” Dean again looked over his shoulder at the door. “If anybody else dies of this, we should remove the implant. Can’t have infectious zombies running around on this ship.”

Francesco laughed at his friend’s words. “They’re not running. Jolting maybe, but not running.”

Dean smirked, “Don’t want any Jolters either.”

 

From Deans quarters, which he shared with his wife and two daughters, none of which had left the rooms since the announcement, it was just a short walk to the command centre. On that short walk Dean had encountered not a single person.

Where normally dozens of people walked by, exercised, brought or retrieved reports, there was not a single soul to be found.

Training grounds in the gardens, deserted. Recreational facilities, including Dean’s favored bowling place, abandoned.

“What the?” He looked around the empty command centre. Only Lucy was at her post, the others, all but missing. “They routed access to their stations to their quarters, all stations at ready, sir.”

“This is ridiculous!” He punched a few buttons on his console after walkimg over to it. “Listen here you hypochondriacs! Everyone not showing up for duty in fifteen minutes faces court martial! Now, you don’t have to fear execution like in the old days, but permanent house arrest. That includes landing on 296! None of you will set foot on that planet, if you won’t have the guts to set foot on your posts! Got that?” He turned to Lucy.

“At least you are here!”

“Bob is having a cold, sir. I kinda thought I’m safer here.” She winked, indicating a joke.

Waving her off he asked for a Sit rep from gamma. “Three people have died from meningitis last night, and they all showed signs of activity after their demise.”

Lounging in his chair, his head resting on his left, Dean listened carefully, concerned, but still somewhat disengaged he raised his eyebrows. “Didn’t I recommend them to remove the implants after death?”

“That’s the thing, sir. They did. Although sick himself Doctor Khan continued his work, and found that the implants have taken on a concerning attribute of the virus.” She handed him the tablet. Dr. Khan had taken fever dampening medication, since the implant wasn’t working properly.

“They are making copies?”

“Just like they would if a woman gets pregnant, they form one implant in the fetus, only here they form in various locations in the body. In patient zero they were right next to each other, in another there were five, in another there was one in the leg. All faulty concerning the virus, but otherwise working copies of the original, oddly enough they copied the unique ID number, something that normally shouldn’t happen.”

Looking at the data himself Dean found himself searching for his implant, on the back of his right hand.

Slowly he became suspicious. Was that meningitis a late revenge from the linkers? Something they hid in the ship, or that they slipped in during the brief indirect contact after their base on ES-p296-1 was discovered?

“Do me a favor, see how Nye Charles is doing, and check on her family as well, and former Admiral Franziska Hardwick.” As he finished his sentence the door opened letting in Jesus Montoya, his com officer, and the elderly frame of Admiral Franziska Hardwick also appeared in the door. “She looks fine, sir.” Lucy’s statement was accompanied by a wide smile.

“Admiral. What brings you here?” ignoring his first officer Dean greeted his predecessor. “I thought you might need a hand up here.” The old woman grinned playfully, she had missed the command centre every day since her retirement.

Inviting her in with just a gesture Dean had no objections. “Sir, your requested checks show that all are in perfect health.”

Gaining also Franziska’s attention Lucy lowered her head again. Quickly Dean explained his concerns, which Franziska completely understood, but could’ve dismissed right away, as she too had heard of the odd behaviour of the virus, and checked on Nye first hand.

“Still it might be the linkers, they could’ve hid the virus on gamma before they left.” Dean had left the former Admiral to sit in his chair, as he manned navigation. Apparently the officer who normally had that post didn’t value setting foot on RV-p296. “That’s right ma’am.” He felt taken back a few years when he was first working navigation, then under the former Admiral. There was one Admiral in between the two, she had retired and he was promoted. Sadly Admiral Sheila Dunston didn’t seem like she was working in her retirement, as she was not seen nor heard of much since her retirement.

“It might also be a natural mutation. Evolution at work right before our eyes.” He said having cut of the remote controlling station at the quarters of the officer. “It might, perhaps, Admiral, you should talk with your chief medical doctor?” Franziska winked, reminding him that he was the Admiral in charge, not her.

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