Chapter Three: Navat

The woman only raised more questions and created more cause for concern the longer we observed her. After the Thermal test, she essentially went comatose.

Weird thing was, her eyes were open.

“We have to go in,” Dr. Parr insisted. “She needs help.”

“Can we verify that the Gorgo is gone?” Sakev asked.

“I think I saw it leave,” I said.

“But can you be sure?”

“Are any of us sure of anything in this situation?” I fired back.

“That’s my point,” Sakev exclaimed. “If a Gorgo decides to use one of us as a host, our entire operation is fucked.”

“We can’t just leave her there,” Amira insisted. “She’s our only shot at understanding what just happened.”

“Grab the gas masks,” Dr. Parr said decisively.

“Will that help?” Amira lifted a brow.

“I don’t know but it’ll make me feel better. Leena?”

Leena nodded and retrieved two gas masks from the emergency supply cupboard on the far end of the room.

“Grab a third one,” I called to her. “I’m going in with you.”

“Let me go,” Sakev insisted. “Evie’s my mate. I should be in there protecting her.”

“That’s why you shouldn’t,” I argued. “I can be more objective in this situation than you can.”

“He’s got a point,” Amira pursed her lips.

“If I’m in there, I need someone monitoring readings from out here.” Dr. Parr tapped the top of her datapad. “I’ll need both hands when I’m in here. Sakev, I’ve taught you how to read this kind of stuff.”

Dr. Parr flipped the datapad around to reveal charts filled with jagged lines, rows of numbers, and a slew of other stuff I didn’t understand.

“I need you to tell me what’s happening on her insides while I’m in there,” she said.

“Can do,” Sakev nodded.

Leena tossed me a gas mask.

“I hope this does something,” I muttered and I slipped it on.

“We don’t know how Gorgos infect their hosts. Could be an airborne virus type of deal,” Leena said.

“That’s enough for me. Let’s do this.”

I opened the door to the reinforced cell. If the woman on the floor was aware of the movement, she didn’t react. Her blank gaze was fixed on the ceiling above. She stared right into one of the fluorescent lights, unblinking.

“Ma’am?” Dr. Parr called out. “I’m a doctor. I’m here to help you. Can you tell me if you feel any pain?”

To no one’s surprise, the woman didn’t answer.

“She looks dehydrated,” Evie said, tilting her head to one side. The three of us looked creepy as skrell standing here with the gas masks over our faces. We’re probably the last thing that woman wanted to see.

“Maybe the Gorgo’s don’t know what a human host body needs,” Leena said. “That could be why they abandon their hosts so quickly.”

“I don’t think so,” I frowned.

Leena turned her steely gaze on me.

“Elaborate.”

“The Gorgo’s are strong enough to suck the life out of things like the Puppet Master, right?” I said. “The Puppet Master is strong, too strong to be taken down by brute force alone. The Gorgo’s have to be strategic in the way they suck the life out of the other Puppet Masters which implies they’re capable of studying and learning about their hosts.”

“But did the Gorgo’s actively inhabit the Puppet Master’s family?” Leena asked.

“I don’t know,” I admitted.

“None of us know anything,” Dr. Parr sighed.

She knelt down beside the woman and checked her pulse.

“She’s alive but her pulse is weak,” she said. “She really needs fluids. Can we have some brought in?”

“I’ll make the call,” Sakev said from the outside.

“Can you call Sk’lar in here as well?” I asked. “I think he’ll want to see this.”

Sakev nodded and spoke rapidly into his radio.

“Help me,” a rasping voice said. I turned my attention back to the woman.

“Help me,” the voice came again. It had to be from the woman, it couldn’t have been from anyone else. Yet, her lips weren’t moving. Her eyes showed no sign of awareness.

“Is that her?”

“I think so,” Dr. Parr said, looking just as perplexed as I felt.

“She looks…drier,” Leena said.

“Hosting the Gorgo took too much out of her,” Dr. Parr’s voice sounded thick. “It’s desperately trying to make up for the depleted resources but it’s not working.”

“And her mouth isn’t moving when she speaks because?” I prompted.

“I can’t help you there,” Dr. Parr clicked her tongue. “Maybe we can ask her when she comes around.”

“I don’t think that’s going to happen,” Leena said softly.

I looked back at the woman. Somehow, she looked even more vacant than she had a second ago. I knew she was gone.

“What a shame,” I murmured.

“Let’s get her into the medical wing for an autopsy,” Leena sighed heavily. Dr. Parr said nothing.

“You wanted to see me, Navat?” Sk’lar’s voice took my attention off the dead woman. The rest of Strike Team Three followed him into the room. A nice surprise.

I exited the holding cell while Sakev helped Leena bring in a stretcher. Dr. Parr knelt beside the woman. Her lips moved but I couldn’t hear her speech. I wondered what she was saying.

“I wanted you to witness this subject first hand,” I said. “But there’s no point. She just died.”

“Oh,” Sk’lar’s face fell. “What killed her?”

“I think it was the force of the Gorgo leaving her body,” I said. “Though, we still haven’t verified that she was a host. We didn’t get a chance to verify anything, actually.”

“Did you observe anything unusual?”

“She was calm while she was brought in,” I reported. “She didn’t fight the scouts. She only acted up when we started the thermal test and even then, her aggression didn’t seem to be directed at us.”

Sk’lar furrowed his brow.

“That’s the most non-invasive test. Why would she react so negatively to it?”

“I have a theory,” Amira piped up.

“By all means.” Sk’lar made a sweeping gesture with his hand.

“Assuming she was infested with a Gorgo,” Amira started, “I think it knew what we were doing.”

“You mean, it knew we were testing for its presence?” Sk’lar asked.

“Exactly. It didn’t freak out until we started actively searching for it,” she continued. “I think it started forcing the host to hurt herself in an attempt to make us stop testing.”

Sk’lar looked to me.

“Makes sense to me,” I shrugged.

“That goes against known Gorgo behavior,” Cazak said thoughtfully.

“What little we have, that is,” Jalok added.

“I’ve never seen a Gorgo fight to avoid detection, let alone fight to keep a specific host,” Sk’lar said. “They usually discard a host soon after inhabiting it. They don’t take care to avoid detection.”

“Maybe there was something specific about this woman.” I gestured to the body leaving the room on a stretcher. I didn’t even know her name. I shook off a wave of disgust for the Gorgos. “Maybe they aren’t just taking over the bodies, they’re also harvesting knowledge.”

“We don’t have anything that supports that theory,” Amira said.

“Except we do,” I countered. “All of those scientists out in the Sika Jungle that went up against Tyehn and Maki were taken over by Gorgos and were used for something specific. It’s a fair bet the Gorgo sought those scientists out.”

Amira narrowed her eyes.

“What did you say your background was?”

“Construction,” I answered. “Why?”

“You’re wasted in that field,” she said. “Should’ve been a detective.”

“A what?”

“A human puzzle solver,” she clarified. “One that catches criminals.”

“Sounds boring.”

Amira snorted.

“Do you think we could compile a list of humans with useful traits?” Jalok asked. “We could be proactive and put those people into protective custody.”

“Everyone on this planet has some kind of useful trait,” Amira said. “We’re a young colony world. We aren’t established enough for people to sit around in their summer homes and do nothing. Everyone here still pulls their weight in some way or another.”

“That might be why they narrowed in on this planet,” I said. “If there are other Puppet Masters out there, why is ours such a big draw? The accomplished human population is likely a factor.”

“But to what end? Sk’lar asked. “How much can the Gorgo’s expect to accomplish if they keep draining and discarding their hosts?”

“Maybe they’re taking the knowledge even when the body shuts down,” Tyhen suggested.

“That’s possible,” Sk’lar nodded. “Prevention should be our first priority, nonetheless.”

“What about extraction?” I asked. “We can prevent all we want but we still can’t narrow down how the Gorgo’s get into their hosts. We ran a thermal test on that woman and the Gorgo fled. Surely, that means something?”

“Yes, but it killed her when it fled,” Sk’lar replied. “We can’t let that happen to everyone who ends up a host.”

“We need another subject to run tests on.” Amira gnawed on the inside of her cheek. “Until then, we’re just running on theories and making guesses.”

“What else is new?” I laughed. “We’ve been running on theories and educated guesses since the Vengeance smashed into this rock. We should be old pros at this by now.”

“Glad you can still find something to laugh about, Navat,” Sk’lar gave me a stern look but it didn’t knock the smile off my face. If I didn’t find the humor in situations like this, I’d be a seething pile of anger at all hours. No one wanted that, least of all me.

I’d gotten good at finding the humor in even the bleakest of situations. I’d had an entire lifetime to perfect the art of it. I wasn’t about to stop now.

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