Part 19 - SubterfugeMature

Lieutenant Commander Harding watched Unit 03 suspended in the transparent medical tank. His vision was a bit blurry, but he could still see her in the therapeutic fluids. For the moment, he was alone.

Unit 03 no longer had skin beneath the new armor, the flesh of her torpid limbs a deep shade of necrotic-brown. The medicine was taking effect, but she'd lose those scorched upper tissues regardless.

Harding had seen such skin treatments before. They were used during The Intifada when the rebels turned to biological warfare. In his professional opinion, the treatments prolonged suffering more than they saved lives.

The doctors told him Unit 03 was still perfectly fine, however. They argued that with her accelerated healing, the burns that covered nearly all her body were purely cosmetic damage.

Harding had remained quiet while he supervised the treatment. He had led hundreds of pilots in his career, and he knew whether or not a soldier was prepared for battle constituted more than just a physical wellbeing.

He blinked and rubbed his eyes. His skin strangely tingled as though it was recovering from being numbed. His throat was a bit parched, so he paced to the working table and policed a fresh energy drink left there by one of the doctors.

Harding had the time to read more about Unit 03 on his palm size computer while security escorted him from the bridge. She was, as the name suggested, the third bioweapon created by the Project Redemption mandate.

In the file, Unit 03 was referred to as Tyr, the Norse god of combat and heroism. The laws also applied to Unit 02 Sword of Mercy, and of course, Unit 01 Thor.

Harding couldn't help but wonder what would happen if all three united and stood as one. Could the plague even challenge that force? Better yet...what if there was a way to create an entire army of them?

The terrible images swam in his mind. Harding took grim comfort in the ironic fact that the weapons humanity created posed just as great a threat to them as the plague itself.

Harding's dream army of Unit 03s was closer to reality than he knew. Mere weeks ago, an unfortunate Staff Sergeant and his men fell to the plague's subterfuge. The mutagenic gas that he now breathed was planted aboard the Vidar when it arrived here by the plague to create such an army.

A sudden sting inside his abdomen shattered his reverie. His sight swam with a red haze. His skin went ablaze with pain and he fell from the chair screaming. Harding didn't understand what was going on.

His stomach compressed itself, and something deep and vital ruptured within his abdomen. He heard footfalls through his bleeding ears. There was the hiss of a security door, followed by a frantic voice.

"Sir! What happened!?"

Harding wasn't okay. Something made him sick, and it was killing him; the bioelectric signals from his own brain fired like lightning at his muscles, igniting a chain of violent spasms throughout his body. The security officer could only watch in abject horror--a moment before he too sprawled to the ground.

The security officer's thrashing fists scored ugly rents into the deck. He frothed at the mouth like a mad dog, eyes rolled to the back of his head. Swelling muscle tore through skin. He now thrashed like a beast.

Harding was still aware of himself. He wasn't completely turned yet. Fighting through his own anguish, several basic facts on his condition slowly came to his decaying consciousness.

The time it took for the illness to manifest was different depending on the person. He arrived before Captain Wilkes and was exposed to it for an hour, where as the security officer was exposed to it for less than five.

He had to do something.

If he surrendered now, everyone else aboard would be infected. He approached Unit 03 in the medical tank. His left arm, unbidden, lashed out against the barrier. He felt the bones break against the bulletproof glass and cried out in pain, only to hear a terrifying snarl tear through his own throat.

An eerie voice called out to him, distant. It spoke of three demons, salvation and everlasting freedom. There was still a bit of humanity left in him. He managed to reach the controls to drain Unit 03's medical tank. He then keyed the air reclamation systems to flush the medical bay and the lower decks.

Harding spent his last moments watching Unit 03 float down to the bottom. She towered seven feet tall in the midnight armor.He couldn't see her eyes beneath the mirrored visor. He wondered what kind of a person was beneath that armor. Whoever she was, he was glad to die by her hand instead of allowing the plague to use him.

A moment later, Unit 03 exploded through the bulletproof barrier and scooped him clear off the ground. They both met the ground at range. An iron fist split his skull wide and set the entire deck to a shudder.

The End

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