Chapter One: Navat

“You know what angers me?” I grumbled as I stalked down the corridors.

“What?” Sakev asked me.

“I’ve done this before. The humans have a phrase for it. Experiencing the same moment over and over again?”

“Déjà vu,” a voice piped up from behind me. I looked over my shoulder to see Amira, a spunky human and the sister-in-law of Strike Team One’s leader, Vrehx. Since Jeneva gave birth, she’d taken a step back from her duties in General Rouhr’s organization. I supposed Amira had picked up some of the slack in her sister’s place, though I hadn’t talked to her much.

She seemed okay. Tough as nails and determined as skrell. Then again, all the humans had to be tough as nails now, even the gentle ones like Dr. Parr. Their planet- our planet now- couldn’t seem to catch a break.

“Déjà vu,” I repeated, testing the strange syllabus on my tongue.

“It means already seen in French,” Amira explained. “You literally feel like you’ve already seen and done this before.”

“That’s exactly it,” I muttered. “And it pisses me off.”

“Elaborate,” Sakev jerked his chin in my direction.

“Remember that whole deal with the Xathi hybrids?” I said. “I feel like I’ve already gone through the human population and cleansed it of an invasive species. I’m not thrilled about having to do this all over again. What was the point of doing it all the first time if we’re right back where we started?”

“It’s not exactly the same,” Amira offered. “For one thing, the hybridism antidote we concocted does jack shit for this new type of possession. Xathi hybridism operated like a plague, a virus. This is a brain thing. A weird brain thing.”

“Is that the technical term?” I smirked.

“Shut up,” Amira chuckled. “This isn’t my field of expertise. I’m learning as I go, just like everyone else here.”

“Fair enough,” I shrugged. “Do you ever get sick of all this?”

“Of course,” she scoffed. “You think I want to be dealing with Xathi, Puppet Masters, and whatever this new fresh hell is?”

“Gorgoxians,” Sakev said. “The anti-alien dickheads are calling them Gorgos for short. I hate those fuckers but it’s catchy.”

“Which fuckers?” I asked. “The anti-alien dickheads or the Gorgos?”

“Both.”

“I second that,” Amira quipped. “The last year has been one never-ending migraine.”

“Even the part where you fell in love?” Sakev teased.

“Especially the part where I fell in love,” Amira winked. “Speaking of love, Dax said he’ll be along to help out shortly. He’s in a meeting right now.”

“Do you think we’ll need him?” I wondered. “Sakev and I have more than enough muscle between the two of us.”

“Theoretically, we won’t need him,” Amira explained. “However, when have things ever gone according to theory for us?”

“I think it happened once a few weeks ago,” I joked. “But seriously, any idea what we’re dealing with today?”

“The scouting group hasn’t checked in yet,” she said.

“Isn’t that concerning?”

“I’m choosing to believe no news is good news.” The nervous glint in her eyes didn’t escape my notice.

“When has that ever been the case for us?” I asked, instantly regretting my words.

“Never,” Amira admitted. “But anything is possible, right? This past year has surely proved that.”

“Without a doubt,” Sakev agreed.

We’ve reached one of the newly renovated holding cells. It’d been reinforced five times over since it was redone. Right now, it stood empty.

“Now what?”

“Now we play the waiting game,” Amira sighed. “I’ll try to get the scout team on the radio.”

“Be cautious,” Sakev warned. “If they’re closing in on a target, a radio call might give away their position.”

“Good point,” Amira tapped her chin. “I’ll try to get their navigation location on a datapad.”

Amira walked off in search of a datapad. I turned to Sakev.

“I’m still pissed off.”

“When are you not?” Sakev joked.

“I’ve been pissed off since I joined the Valorni ranks,” I said.

“Trust me, I’m aware,” Sakev laughed. “Do you regret it, though?”

“I don’t think so,” I said after a moment of consideration. “I mean, we’ve landed in a shit situation here. I know not everyone thinks so, especially the lucky ones who found mates,” I gave Sakev a pointed look. He grinned back at me.

“You jealous?” He asked.

“Not exactly,” I shrugged. “I’m jealous that some have found reasons to make staying here worthwhile. I don’t need a mate thrown into this mess, though. It’ll only complicate things.”

“Let me put it this way, what would you be doing if you weren’t here?”

“Probably doing the same thing somewhere else,” I laughed dryly. “The Xathi are still wreaking havoc elsewhere in the galaxies. Odds are, I’d be doing the same thing I’m doing now only without the support of Strike Teams and a good General. I’d wouldn’t be a civilian.”

“There you go.” Sakev clapped his hands together. “You’re not pissed about being a soldier. You’re just pissed off. It’s part of your personality.”

I laughed genuinely this time.

“Thanks for the pep talk. You should start charging for them.”

“I know, right?”

“I got something!” Amira rushed into the room, datapad in hand. “The scout team is heading back.”

“Did they get a Gorgo?”

“I think so,” she replied. “And we shouldn’t call them that. They’re still people.”

“They’re husks,” I said flatly. “The Gorgo is the one steering the ship if you catch my meaning.”

“Still, it skeeves me out,” Amira shuddered. “They’re people. When the new subject arrives, we should treat them as such.”

“Only if they act as such,” I said decisively.

“You’re an asshole, Navat. Has anyone ever told you that?” Amira grinned.

“Many times,” I smirked. “What kind of prep do we need to do for our new guest? Food and water bowls?”

“Please, never reproduce,” Amira jabbed.

“I have great paternal instincts, for your information,” I shot back.

“I’ll believe that when I see it. Get ready. The scout team is back.”

Amira grabbed the radio from Sakev’s belt and clicked to the correct frequency.

“Talk to me. What do we have?”

“Single subject,” a staticky voice came through. “Displaying no signs of aggression. Minimal signs of awareness.”

“You’re sure it’s an occupied host?” She asked, wincing on the words.

That was the tricky thing about the Gorgos. They tended to overload their hosts. We’d noticed they’ve gotten better at abandoning a host before a host dies, but that wasn’t a good thing. Vacated hosts were…screwy, for lack of better word.

So far, the vacated hosts we’d observed were nothing like they were before the Gorgo invaded their minds. Best case scenario, it was like they were drugged or in some kind of haze. Worst case was a host gone mad. We hadn’t found a way to reverse that yet. The ladies up in the labs were working on it night and day but they had almost nothing to go off.

Enter the scouts.

We’d all had a turn on the scout teams but some were a better fit than others. I was better suited to the second phase: dealing with the subject.

Now that Einhiv was basically a Gorgo colony, the scouts had a good hunting ground to pick up affected humans.

The front doors to the holding facility were kicked open and a small group of heavily armored scouts entered the room. Each had a hold on a human woman who looked far too pale for comfort. There was a telltale glazed look in her eyes. She wouldn’t even move her feet. They were dragging behind her. I could see that the scouts were doing whatever they could not to injure her in the transport process but she didn’t seem aware of what was happening around her.

She didn’t put up a fight as she was put in the holding cell. Two scouts gently placed her in a chair before taking their leave.

“She’s all yours,” one of the scouts, a human male, nodded to us. We didn’t have many human volunteers. It was nice to see one on our side.

“Thanks,” Amira nodded back. She looked at the woman in the holding cell. “Can you tell us your name?”

The woman said nothing. She didn’t even blink.

“We’re going to run a few tests on you,” Amira explained. “They aren’t supposed to hurt so if you feel any pain, you need to let me know immediately. Can you do that?”

No response.

“Can we even test on her like this?” I asked.

“We don’t have a choice. Every ounce of information we can get is helpful.”

“But will she be able to tell us if something is wrong?”

“I’m not sure,” Amira frowned.

“That’s some kind of ethical violation isn’t it?” Sakev wondered out loud.

“We’re ethically obligated to protect the women, but not the Gorgo. If the Gorgo is present inside her, we’re obligated to test on it.”

“I understand what you mean about those migraines, Amira,” I groaned.

With the anti-alien presence still strong in most of the cities, General Rouhr and Mayor Vidia wanted us to take extra precautions with everything we did. The last thing we needed was to be accused of treating people inhumanely.

After everything we’ve done to keep the human population safe, it was ridiculous that we still didn’t have their full trust.

Leena breezed in, scrolling through her notes. Dr. Parr followed closely behind.

“Are we ready to start testing?”

“I can’t verify the presence of a Gorgo,” Amira said.

“We’ll start with the gentlest test first,” Leena decided. “She shouldn’t feel a thing. Gorgo or no Gorgo.”

“Works for me,” Amira shrugged.

The reinforced walls and windows in the holding cell weren’t the only renovations. This cell, in particular, was set up for testing. All of the scanners and other fancy technical stuff was already installed. Leena could run tests without going into the holding cell.

“Running test one: Thermo scan,” Leena spoke into a recorder. She pressed a few buttons on her datapad.

We’d figured out that Gorgo’s affected the body temperature of the host. An occupied human’s temperature ran over one hundred degrees.

Machinery whirled. All of our eyes were fixed on the woman. She still hadn’t reacted to anything around her.

Once the thermal scanner fired up, that all changed.

She went ballistic. She screamed and thrashed, leaping out of her seat to slam herself into the reinforced walls which, thankfully, held.

“Should we turn it off?” Amira asked.

“No.” Leena’s gaze went steely. “This is a new reaction. We have to observe.”

“She’s going to break her face,” I said.

“We can release tranq gas if it gets too serious,” Leena said. “Dr. Parr is here for a reason, as well.”

The woman turned to us. It was difficult to explain, but it looked as if there was a second face beneath her actual face.

The Gorgo.

The woman let out a howl. The second face disappeared. She collapsed to the floor, still as a stone.

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