Topic: Mutagen Origins - by LadyLightest


This one is a slow buildup. So far there haven't been any super-erotic transformations as is typical of the forum, but it's absolutely building up to it and it's one to keep an eye on.


Author's note:

Phew, you guys have no idea just how long in the making this story has been! I've had the concept of a mutagenic super-plague bouncing around in my head for the better part of a decade! It started out as a concept for an RP specifically focused on just tentacles and I only named it The Tentacle Virus. I created it at least around 2009ish, making the concept at least 13 years old as of today. But I knew it had potential, so I expanded it to more than just tentacles and gave it the ability to mutate any creature into any shape. I started writing this story itself probably around 2018 or 2019, but then got sidetracked by the same various bullshit issues that fucked with my other writing too. Now that I finally have really been trying to buckle down and get more writing out for you guys I can finally deliver!

Here's the tantalizing first chunk, which is admittedly mostly buildup and nerdery. There's no actual penetrative sex yet, I wanted to take the time to actually give the Mutagen as well as the protagonist some legitimate detailed foundations and backstory before diving into the slimy, tentacled lewdness. More will be forthcoming in a few months though, as this has been added to my list of active writing projects to keep working on this year. I hope you enjoy it and stick with me for more!

Elizabeth Marcelline, the Remarian Concordat, and Retrovirus 35634R all belong to me!


Re: Mutagen Origins - by LadyLightest

Chapter 1: Omega Prime

Dr. Elizabeth Marcelline was sitting alone in a small, smoky little meeting chamber that morning, huffing on one of her expensive imported cigarettes. She rolled the tiny little paper cylinder around between her fingertips, examining it and the smoldering cinders on its end. How odd it was to her that something as cheap as a bit of paper and dried leaves could be so fucking expensive. She had to remind herself that life on a space station meant that everything had to be hauled through deep space to even get here, and most freight runners didn't have the balls to smuggle illegal contraband like tobacco. Ship and station maintenance people didn't like having to spend countless hours replacing expensive CO2 scrubbers that were gummed up with tobacco smoke after all, so the federation-wide ban made sense. Still, Ellie had had enough of the assholes working here in Biotech Station 456 to not really give a shit about the impacts of her having a cig once in awhile. Especially when it came time for her to handle a one on one meeting with the station's commander, Admiral Jennifer Lisattra.

Lisattra entered the meeting chamber with her usual down-to-the-minute punctuality and immediately coughed when she got a lungful of Elizabeth's smoke. She shot her a deep scowl and said "Doctor Marcelline, what have I told you about smoking on the station?"

"You told me that I'm lucky you're not throwing the book at me over it because I'm your best researcher on this old tin can." Ellie replied, then took another big puff off of her cig.

Lisattra scowled and sat down across from Elizabeth. She wore a formal military uniform, the kind of dull olive drab that reminded Ellie of puked-up MRE rations. There was a respectable number of shiny medals pinned to the chest of her uniform, but clearly they weren't numerous or important enough to have kept Lisattra from getting assigned to a backwater shithole tincan like 456. Still, she was pretty enough despite the uniform doing nothing for her looks. She was young for an Admiral, easily being in her mid 30s and still having vibrantly red, curly short hair that refused to be tamed unless buzzed off. She had swarms of freckles all over her body that made Ellie imagine swarms of red gnats constantly landing on and biting Lisattra, which sometimes gave Ellie the patience to handle the bullshit that so often torrented out of Lisattra's mouth.

"You know Doctor, one of these days you're gonna yank my chain hard enough that I'll have you thrown off of this station." Lisattra grumbled in a half-threatening, half-resigned tone.

"Good thing then that I know scuzzing up a few CO2 scrubbers is such a small offense that it will never add up to that. You don't even care about the maintenance jockeys, you just don't like the fact that I know how vitally important I am to the research on this station and how it makes me practically indispensable. So unless I do something royally stupid like leaking research secrets on the Superluminal Network, your threats are as empty as the promises of a Remarian Concordat Senator." Ellie said with a perfectly calm, biting tone.

Lisattra sighed and buried her forehead in the palm of her left hand as her elbows thunked down onto the plastic table. "Listen Elizabeth, there's two reasons why I called you in for this meeting, and the first one is because I know of shit you've been doing that's a whole lot worse than making some grease monkey's life into a living nightmare. I decided to have my techies start tracking all your network traffic after they saw a few large file uploads onto the Superluminal Network. They were worried you were uploading classified documents, and you know what they found."

This time it was Elizabeth's turn to heave an infuriated sigh and bury her face into her palm.  "Oh, great, so now you're gonna lecture me on what I get off to? That's just fantastic. Listen, with all due respect commander, it's none of your goddamned business what porn sites I surf during my off time, when I'm off the clock I can do whatever I w-"

Lisattra angrily cut her off, "Elizabeth! I don't give a flying snake shit about what you finger yourself to! What I care about is what you post! Look here." She then pulled out a 5 milimeter thick stack of printed paper sheets that were stapled together and tossed it onto the table between them.

Ellie eyed the title on the topmost page. "Ties that Bind." It was a piece of fetish porn about heavy bondage that she had written and then uploaded to one of the kink communities online that she was an active participant on. She already could feel the anger, humiliation, and violation bubbling up within her over her boss reading it. The idea of all those network eggheads reading it made her blood boil. They were probably all laughing at her in a group and saving copies to jerk off to back in their quarters.

"How dare you Lisattra! That's extremely personal and I-" Ellie began, but Lisattra cut her off again.

"Personal enough for you to upload onto the Superluminal Net for countless people to read? Will you shut your fucking trap and just listen to me for a second? I said I don't give a steaming, chunky shit about the contents of what you write, what I care about is the fact that you're uploading files this large onto the network from a military research station that the general public doesn't even know exists! There's a reason why we restrict the size of our data packets when communicating with the other stations Doctor, the larger the file you send the easier it is for a hacker to trace the network connection and extrapolate the coordinates of our location. After that all they have to do is compare the coordinates to a basic directory of all publicly known space stations and boom, they know there's a potentially significant secret facility here! So go on fisting yourself to whatever disgusting shit you like, but if my boys catch you breaking the upload limitation protocol again I'm going to bust your ass so hard it'll make the sadomasochistic painplay in your stories look fucking paltry by comparison!" Lisattra shouted.

This time Elizabeth shrank back in her chair, unable to defeat the logic of her commander's rebuke. She loathed this restriction on her freedoms and hated to leave her friends and fans on the bondage network hanging off of her last cliffhanger, but she still had to keep her record clean for another three years before she earned her government pension. All she could do here was grin and bear it. So she grabbed the paper copy of her story and stowed it away in her bag, then grinned a fakey, sappy grin and said "Yes Admiral."

"Good. Now if we can get past this childish bullshit, I have a new assignment for you, and one that is so important that if you succeed, I'll buy you a whole goddamn carton of cigarettes out of my own pay." Lisattra said, then opened her briefcase and pulled out a mostly-empty manila file folder with a couple papers inside.

Ellie raised her eyebrows as she picked up the folder and pulled the papers out. She hadn't seen physical paper documentation on a pathogen like this in ages. Something about this struck her as off in a very strange way. Then she put two and two together; in an age where almost all data was stored digitally and hackers could break into practically any computerized data, paper was one of the best methods to store data in a way that was unreachable to hackers. This information must have been extremely sensitive. At least this also meant that her bondage story was being treated with some privacy too, assuming whatever network spook hadn't saved a copy before printing it like she feared.

"We have a newly discovered pathogen we want you to study, doctor. Our field researchers dubbed it 35634R. There's not really much data about it here because the entire field research team was infected and had to be quarantined and terminated. Because of the rapidity of the spread and its potential danger level we're classifying all information about this pathogen under Omega Prime secrecy levels. I don't think I need to tell you how serious this is, Ellie." Lisattra said with a deadly stare.

Elizabeth narrowed her eyes as she recalled the regulations about Omega Prime classification. Anyone who leaked secrets at this particular level could be tried for treason and executed by lethal injection. Whatever this shit was, it must be fucking terrifying to keep bottled up this tightly. She picked up the folder and opened it, glancing over the basic data sheet concerning the pathogen in question. It contained a few simple tidbits; the pathogen was a retrovirus with mutagenic properties that was solely transmitted through fluids...at least as far as they knew. There were no detailed breakdowns and no microscope images, just a single textual transcription of an audio log recorded by the field research team that had first encountered the virus in the field. Ellie flipped through it far too quickly to comprehend any of its contents and scowled. The last bit of information that caught her eye though was the numerical rating for biohazard virulence, it was the highest rating possible: 10.

"Holy shitfuck commander, this thing is a Rank 10?! All it'd take is one dropped test tube and the entire station could be fucking dead in hours!" Ellie exclaimed.

"That's why I need you at your best, Doctor. This monstrosity was discovered surviving on a normally barren desert world by a team of terraforming researchers studying possible ways to turn desert planets habitable. It was isolated from field samples taken from some sort of strange alien plant-animal hybrid creature living in a small cavern oasis on the planet's surface. The field research team was sprayed by fluid fired from the creature's body though, and within minutes those who were exposed passed out and began to mutate. The team's small body of escort marines realized the colossal danger when one of the former researchers woke up and then tried to intentionally spread the infection further by spraying more of that fluid at them. They were forced to terminate the research team and all but two of their own, who escaped the planet safely clear of infestation. They brought us a few tiny sealed samples and the audio log that I gave you in the folder. I want you to analyze the samples, run a few experiments, and get us more information so we can understand what we're up against next time someone goes to that planet. We have the planet under quarantine but we don't have nearly enough information." Lisattra said.

Suddenly Elizabeth's problems with porn file uploads seemed trivial by comparison. She still remembered stories about previously witnessed outbreaks of level 10s back during her education, one stood out in particular. The Xel'Ton Plague was a level 10 that had been named for the world of Xel'Ton 4 where it had been first discovered. It was a brutally lethal respiratory disease that caused frequent coughing fits before leading to extremely sudden and rapid lung hemorrhaging until the victim's lungs literally dissolved into a bloody slurry. It propagated through aerosolized particles spread by coughing and killed off the entire colony of 56 million inhabitants on Xel'Ton 4 within two weeks. If something like that got loose on their shitty little station outside of the lab's recycled air, they'd all be dead the moment the incubation period was up.

Ellie cleared her throat and said "With all due respect commander, I'm not sure if there's a colorful enough phrase in the English language to use to say 'Fuck no' with enough forcefulness."

Lisattra gave her a deadly stare and sat quite still for a moment. "I think you're under some sort of illusion that you have a choice in this matter, Doctor. You can't just turn your back on a project of this importance, especially when your work could potentially save billions of lives. You do have some husk of morality hidden away in that rugged old shell of cynicism, right?"

Ellie gave her a throaty laugh and said "Me? The gal that helped create designer plagues to use on rebellious outer-rim colony worlds so the Remarian Concordat could maintain 'order' in the galaxy? I think you might not know me that well after all, Lisattra."

The red-headed commander sighed and gave her a scowl. "There's also the fact that you're still three years off that really sweet pension Doctor. If you fuck up now, that's ten years of education and seven years of hard work on this station crafting those designer plagues to take all those lives for nothing. I'd suggest you avoid that. Or you could resign now and we could fly you right back to that shithole outer-rim dustball that we recruited you from. Your choice."

Ellie returned the scowl and shrugged her shoulders heavily. Damn, looks like Lisattra still knew how to motivate her after all. "Alright, fine. I'll do it. But you'd better pray to your personal deity of choice that my incompetent asshat lab assistants won't breathe wrong onto one of our sample vials or none of this bickering will have mattered for shit."

Lisattra scoffed a bit and said "It's an Omega Prime case, Ellie. You're not getting lab assistants for this. We sent all the regular lab staff off on shore leave today so you could have the entire facility to yourself. Not even the station's AI will be allowed to help you. You'd better bring your top game for this."

Ellie finally cracked a grin, albeit it was a cynical one. "Finally some good news. Getting rid of those half-wits will actually increase our chances of survival quite a bit. Now then, if there's nothing else commander, I ought to head down to the labs to get started. Those gene sequencers take awhile to work their magic, best to get them revved up immediately."

Chapter 2: Exceeding Expectations

Elizabeth Marcelline hummed in boredom as she stripped her body naked and walked into the decontamination chamber at the entrance to the lab. She had done this at the beginning of every shift five days a week for the past seven years, so by now she had memorized it so heavily that it was rote. Muscle memory, in fact. She had just shoved her civvies into a locker and was now enjoying pure, utter silence in the locker room for the first time ever though, so this was already breaking the routine enough to make her a bit more attentive than usual. The lack of hungover flunkies and backbiting rivals in the place was something she wanted to savor.

Ellie's body was fairly modest, all things considered. She had shoulder-length sandy brown hair, hazel eyes that were weary with boredom and cynicism, and a B cup bust that was nothing to write home about. Hell, she knew a few marines on station that had more fullness in their chest region than her, a fact that often liked to taunt her occasionally when she did these decontamination showers before work. She had to remind herself that comparing herself to others was below her, it was something that the tittering housemakers and bimbos back at home did, not respectable women of science like her. Not that she had any sort of actual respectability or recognition in her field anyway; as far as the galactic scientific community was concerned, she and every other researcher on this station did not exist. Even if the write-up she was about to do on this 35634R proved to be vitally important and world-saving in magnitude, it would be attributed merely to a "Classified Research Team" on an undisclosed station. Not that it mattered anyway, she was just doing the same circular, repetitive, and empty self-esteem mental exercises as usual, it was a good way to distract herself from the fact that she was about to work on something that could very likely transform her into some horrific monstrosity before killing her in a myriad of potentially torturous ways.

After the sprays of various acrid chemicals and the blasts of drying hot air had finished, Ellie plucked a skintight jumpsuit and an airtight isolation suit off of a nearby rack and got herself properly equipped for work. It was another additional layer of protection just in case, even though most of her samples were also stored in airtight isolation chambers and the lab's air was also on its own separate recycler grid. Once she was ready to enter the lab she approached the inner airlock and began to key in her personal passcode, and a nearby hologram emitter shimmered to life, projecting a 6-inch tall 3D image of the station AI's avatar. The AI, named Persephone, liked to take the shape of a friendly female Sarienne, which was an alien race from the planet Sarne within the galactic federation they were all a part of, the Remarian Concordat. Sarienne were amphibious humanoids with finely scaled skin that changed colors to match their emotions. They had a long finned tail as well as two legs, and instead of hair they had long nerve tendrils with glowing tips that sort of looked like hair. They were affectionately nicknamed Space Mermaids by humans because of these features. Persephone's appearance was still transparent and holographic though, laced with circuit patterns like most common military systems AIs. She greeted Ellie with a polite bow and pale purple skin, which indicated a pleasant, positive mood.

"Good evening, Doctor Marcelline. As you are aware, since your next project is classified as Omega Prime, I will be unable to assist you in your research. Protocol dictates that I disconnect myself from all of the lab's systems, including the consoles and cameras, so that in the event of a station network security breach, a hostile network intruder cannot extract Omega Prime Classified data from my databases." Persephone said in a cheerful tone.

"I'm aware of this Persephone. Much as I like you for being one of the few competent people on this rust warren, it will be nice to have a little bit of solitude for once. I think I might even put on some classical music over the lab PA systems." Ellie replied, then finished entering the code and the inner door of the airlock hissed open.

"Very good, have a productive shift Doctor Marcelline." Persephone replied, then deactivated her hologram.

Once Ellie was through the airlock she entered the lab proper. It was a long rectangular room with another airlock and decontamination chamber on the opposite side. On the right hand side of the lab from her entry point was the equipment and scanner section where she had access to everything from tunneling electron microscopes, gene sequencers, chemical synthesizers, and plenty more to fill all her needs. On the left hand side was a row of 10 access terminals with windows, each one allocated to a sealed isolation chamber where actual exposure tests could be performed on lab animals in safety. The place was totally empty and Ellie couldn't help but grin again as she looked around the lab through the visor of her pressure suit. There was something wonderful about the silence in that room today. She stood there for a few moments, pondering the absence of anyone who could keep an eye on her and the fact that all the security cameras were offline. If it wasn't for the fact that Lisattra was expecting a full report write-up, there was really nothing stopping her from just sitting back and sleeping her entire shift.

Ellie eventually banished those thoughts as she remembered the piles of cash she would be pulling in on her pension in three years. Most people in this shitty galaxy were lucky to retire at all, let alone at 40 with enough pension to live lavishly on. That alone was enough to make facing this little bugger worth it. She used the primary console by the entryway to queue up a playlist of piano music by her favorite classical composers and smiled when Clair de Lune by Debussy started up as the first song on the list. She then walked over to the console at the first isolation chamber to her right, labeled #1. She activated the terminal and requested the first sample of 35634R be fetched out of cold storage. The console forced her to re-verify her credentials again, and then she heard the loud chugging and groaning of hydraulics and other machinery whirring to life. Normally the samples were lowered into the isolation chamber inside secure steel refrigerated crates, but 35634R being a Rank 10 apparently warranted special procedures. The huge steel doors in the ceiling of Chamber 1 hissed and groaned open, lowering a remote-controlled robotic armature into the chamber. The armature itself wasn't out of the ordinary, it was what it was carrying. Instead of the usual crate, there was a huge, cumbersome solid Tritanium-Steel cask sealed with multiple security interlocks and absolutely covered with insistently bright biohazard labels.

Ellie perked her brow as she watched the armature lowered into place, locking onto the floor of the isolation chamber with a loud thunk and click. Then the lowering mechanisms retreated back into the ceiling and the pressure seal slid closed with a thud-clang-hiss. Ellie had to admit, she was impressed at least by the effectiveness of these chambers. Each one was not only air-tight, but its seals were specially treated to make them proof against corrosion from high or low pH levels. They came with several emergency protocols for sterilization, including incinerators to heat the chambers to 20,000 degrees centigrade, gamma ray bursts to fry those pesky heat-resistant bugs, cryo injectors that could cool the chambers down to nearly absolute zero for those that resisted heat and radiation, and 0 and 14 pH acid and base sprays for those that could resist all of the above. Between all of that there wasn't a bug that they couldn't kill within seconds if shit got serious inside. Ellie then connected her console to the armature and requested the specific security code to open the cask. The console forced her to verify her credentials again and then spat out an impressively long 75 digit code, which Ellie had to tediously punch into the cask's keypad using the robotic arm inside the test chamber. This practically took half an hour, as she kept repeatedly making typos on the keypad that forced her to start all over again from the beginning. She was about ready to punch the damn terminal screen by the time she got the code right and the cask's locks clanged open.

Inside the cask was almost entirely empty, there were only 5 sample jars stored inside with the rest being empty, wasted space. The jars were specialized polyplasticine spheres without any sort of lids or access ports, only designated spots to drill in with a specialized needle to extract the sample. Ellie sighed, she was getting awfully sick of these insanely over-exaggerated safety procedures, and the fact that they only had 5 jars meant that she was going to have to culture a whole lot more of them to get the amount of testing done that she would need. It took another half an hour of struggling with safety protocols before she finally got one of those jars out of the isolation chamber and into her hands, and she carried it gingerly over to one of her incubator chambers. The extractor needles withdrew a few mL of the clear, water-like fluidic sample medium and injected them into dishes full of specialized agar covered with lattice-like layers of cloned animal and plant cells that would act as hosts for viral replication. She stretched that little sample as far as she possibly could, practically only putting one tiny little droplet onto each dish, but when she was done she had over 30 dishes carefully sealed away in gently heated racks inside the machine. Now all that she needed here was time; without a way of knowing how fast this little bugger could duplicate itself she could only move on to her next phase of lab procedure to fill her time.

Things began to fade into rote routine again as Ellie got to work next on getting a sample put into her gene sequencer machines. More pleasant and beautiful songs passed as Ellie worked, relaxing her and soothing her nerves. She actually had to mentally shake herself out of that complacent state by reminding herself again how mind-bogglingly dangerous this could be. Still, after that sample was squared away, it was time to get to the interesting stuff. Live exposure tests! She left Chamber 1 dedicated solely to holding that huge cask and moved down to Chamber 2, dialing in a request for her first test organism. Since the field reports had apparently described some sort of strange half-animal, half-plant creature as the virus's first carrier, she decided to start with a plant, just in case that was the most optimal host. The lab machinery lowered a small, young potted rose bush down into Chamber 2. This poor thing was only 4 feet tall and it didn't have any mature blooms yet, just 6 small buds that needed time to develop. Another fight with the protocols later and she got a sample of 35634R transferred from Chamber 1 to Chamber 2, then had the armature use a needle attachment to inject the sample into the main stem of the rose bush near the base just above the soil. With that she hit a button to start up a timer, hoping to measure the incubation period between initial exposure and the first signs of symptomology.

With all this dry laboratory procedure out of the way, Ellie took a breath and paused, flipping ahead a few more songs in her playlist. She knew she still had to get another sample to her microscopes to examine the viral particles, but for now she just wanted to watch her rose bush for any signs of weirdness. After Lisattra's little verbal summary of the virus's rapid effects she knew it would be important for her to observe and take notes through every single stage of mutation. Besides, there was a part of her hidden deep down inside that was slightly...excited about what sort of mutations would actually form. The report file about a strange hybrid plant creature was bouncing around inside her mind and playing havoc with all the weird fantasies she'd developed from years of browsing online kink communities.

It took about 15 minutes for the first signs of strangeness to show up. Ellie reached over to stop the incubation timer and began to verbally dictate notes to the console.

"Approximately 15 minutes and 30 seconds after initial exposure, test subject presents with abnormal alteration to the normally rigid surface of the stem in a 3 millimeter circular radius around the point of injection. The transformation is difficult to describe, the normally healthy green skin seems to have darkened several shades within the circular radius and taken on a more...flexible property. Affected area also seems to have just begun secreting some sort of liquid residue, similar in appearance to a mucous sheath used by slugs and snails..."

Ellie paused and switched the robot arm to a basic probe attachment, which she used to gently prod at the transformed skin. Strangely, the spot seemed to very gently undulate in response to the touch! She furrowed her brow and paused for just a moment to figure out exactly how to phrase her description of this.

"Physical stimulation at the site of mutation actually seems to provoke some sort of motor response. The mutant tissue must be developing some sort of...muscular capability?" Ellie mumbled, narrowing her eyes and watching.

Ellie activated a camera on the armature and zoomed in on the site of mutation. A strange feeling began to take shape deep in her gut; she felt a mixture of excitement and complete terror. This shouldn't have been possible, but here it was happening right in front of her eyes. In stark contrast to this, her music playlist began to play Un Sospiro in D flat major by Franz Liszt, sending fluttering and beautiful piano scales through the air like a cool autumn breeze. With help from the song she shook off the shock and continued dictating.

"Zoomed in footage of the site of mutation reveals a softening of the normally rigid skin, and the formation of distinct veins and muscle fibers. The boundaries of the transformation are advancing across the stem in all directions at a steady pace of..." Ellie paused to do a little mental math. "1 millimeter per second. If mutation continues at a constant rate, full assimilation should be reached in approximately 20 minutes and 20 seconds."

Ellie paused the recording and watched while the mutation continued to spread. Her heart was beginning to pound. This wasn't just some ultra-deadly plague now, it was something altogether unique. Whatever it was, 35634R was living up to the research team's stories. It really did seem to be capable of blending plant and animal tissues together in a manner previously not thought possible. The mutation continued to spread, crawling down into the dirt to reach the roots and upwards onto the branches. As the mutated region grew further and further, the skin continued to darken in color until it reached a smooth, opaque jet black. Veins began to visibly form under the skin and lightly pulsate as the corruption spread. Then, a few dimpled bumps began to form on the surface of the skin near the veins. Ellie's eyes bugged out as she watched tiny little wiggling tendrils start to sprout from the surface of the corrupted stem. Shakily she hit the button to resume her recording.

"At 17 minutes and 35 seconds, the corrupted area of the stem has begun to visibly transform, producing four 13mm pseudopod-like appendages with full motility. These appendages seem to be moving under their own power and growing at an increasingly rapid rate. More of these appendages are appearing the further the corrupted area has spread."

She hit the pause button again and leaned over to verify that she was recording video footage of everything on the screen. She pushed the zoom to its maximum level, spotting individual pores secreting the slimy residue onto the skin. With a little adjustment she moved the camera over to the advancing boundary of mutation and stared in awe for several seconds. With another button tap she resumed recording.

"Mutations advancing at this speed must require truly tremendous expenditure of metabolic energy. Given the fact that cellulose molecules are normally rigid and are what give plant cells their structural rigidity, the virus must be somehow reducing, removing, or restructuring the cellulose in the subject's cells at a colossal speed in order to give it the observed flexibility this quickly. I suspect the virus may have discovered a way to break down the cellulose into its component glucose molecules to provide a portion of the necessary energy to power the transformation."

A small chime sounded from the computer, causing Ellie to glance over. The temperature readings for the plant had increased rapidly enough to trigger a notice on her screen.

"Temperature readings on the site of mutation have risen by nearly 20 degrees Fahrenheit since initial exposure, as would be expected from such a drastic metabolic increase. I am adjusting the temperature levels of the test chamber downward to compensate."

Ellie paused again and began to gently adjust the knob for chamber temperature. She was nearly satisfied when she was suddenly interrupted by movement in her peripheral vision. She looked up to see that several branches of the plant had fully mutated and were beginning to move on their own, much in the same way that the new tendrils were. She gasped a little as she saw them swoop up and smear slimy fluids all over the upper branches that still weren't fully corrupted. She scrambled to hit the record button to resume dictation.

"Amazing. Complete assimilation of three branches has given them full motor capability and they seem to have opposability and highly dextrous manipulation capabilities. The very first thing these mutated branches used this ability for is to spread their mucous sheath onto the still-untransformed portions of the plant above. Contact points are already showing initial signs of mutation. This confirms the reports of the initial team that the mucous is a highly virulent infection-spreading vector. These instinctual movements also demonstrate a highly effective instinctual adaptation to intentionally spread this fluid further to assist in transmitting the virus."

Ellie's heart was beating a little faster now. The more fast-paced and discordant middle section of Un Sospiro was only serving to rile up her nerves even more. She couldn't stop her mind from flashing back to various types of tentacle porn she absolutely loved to indulge in during her private time. What she was watching unfold in front of her was almost like the nightmarish beginning of one of those pornos brought to life in a way that was far more real than she could process. Those mixed feelings of excitement and terror were now also developing a new element, arousal. She was now infinitely grateful that none of the lab assistants were around to see the tinge of blush on her cheeks as she watched the plant's glistening tentacles writhing over themselves. She had to struggle to maintain her focus and continue dictating her notes.

"Leaves on the infected branches have turned the same jet black color, and new tendrils are beginning to branch from their edges. The pace of assimilation is accelerating rapidly due to the manual spreading of infectious mucous all over the remainder of the plant's surface area by the mobile branches. Full assimilation is now expected to complete in less than a minute. I am pausing this recording to take a tissue sample in hopes I can observe the transformation at a cellular level before it completes and I lose my chance."

Ellie had to move quickly. She grabbed the controls of the robotic armature and switched its head from the manipulator probe to a sample-gathering needle. She jabbed it into one of the portions of the stem that was still unaffected, drawing a portion of fluid and tissue into the needle. With practiced precision she then turned the armature around and injected the needle into a small port in the wall of the containment cell, where a self-contained machine placed the sample onto a slide and put the slide into a microscope. Video feed of the output came onto one of her terminal screens and she adjusted the focus clumsily while fiddling with her isolation suit with one hand. It was starting to feel seriously cumbersome and swampy.

Once Ellie got the focus right she saw rows upon rows of regularly arranged green plant cells lit up perfectly by clean white light from underneath. The liquid medium of the sample was already swimming with virus particles, which instantly caused Ellie's train of thought to derail violently. Those virus particles were fucking HUGE! She'd never even heard of a virus that was big enough to see with a microscope of this limited resolution before, one virus particle looked like it was 1/5 the size of an entire plant cell by itself! There were thousands of them already swarming around the plant cells, and as she watched they began to bind to the surface receptors and fuse into the bodies of the cells in droves. They began to dump massive payloads of genetic material into the plant cells, which dutifully translated and incorporated that genetic material into their own genomes. This wasn't unusual to Ellie, it was standard procedure for Retroviruses of all types. What was unusual was how quickly those cells began to mutate once the viral DNA was merged into their genomes. Instead of starting to pump out hundreds of new copies of the virus, the cells shifted gears to altering their own structures and changing shape while barely producing one or two viruses at a time. As she suspected, cellulose was beginning to break down in their cell walls, softening them and causing them to thin. The liquids pulsating through the extracellular matrix began to churn and shift too, causing the cells to become looser and more mobile. Not a single one of the infected cells seemed to suffer the typical death caused by viral infections. None of them overproduced viruses until they burst. In fact, the cells continued to reproduce and behave like healthy cells even as they began to develop new unfamiliar organelles and structures. Ellie was utterly mesmerized by this for several minutes; she barely even noticed it as her playlist now shifted to the second movement of Piano Concerto #2 in C Minor by Rachmaninoff. The slower, gentler orchestral opening and flowing piano phrases were subtle enough that she missed them completely until something utterly terrifying caught her attention. There was a sudden, sharp splattering sound from the chamber that nearly caused her to jump in her seat.

"What the fuck?!" Ellie shouted, turning to look for the source of the sound.

It turned out that the plant had continued to mutate while she was watching the virus work its magic on the cell sample. One of the rose buds had transformed into some sort of bright red bulbous flesh pod roughly as big as a nectarine. A narrow orifice had formed on the end where the tip of the bulb had been before, and thin watery green liquid was dripping out of that orifice. The pod had sprayed the liquid like a squirt gun and somehow had aimed it directly at Ellie! She scrambled to try to understand how this could happen, the glass was one way and the chamber was so thoroughly isolated that the creature had no way to know she was there. No light, no heat, no scents, nor even magnetic fields could pass through the windows between her and the interior of that test chamber. A terrifying possibility struck Ellie, had this thing already penetrated the test chamber?! She reached over and flipped the safety cap off the big red button that triggered the purge systems for the chamber, but then hesitated. There were sensors all over the damn thing that would have detected a hole in any of the seals. The board was totally quiet, and when she looked over at another screen and entered a request for system status, all containment systems reported nominal.

"Ok, ok, what the actual shitfuck is going on in here? Goddammit I wish I could get Persephone's help on this one." Ellie mumbled angrily, feeling entirely overwhelmed and out of her depth.

Another loud splat jarred her in her seat and she looked up to see that the plant had sprayed at her again from a second mutated pod. Its aim was right on the money a second time too, confirming her suspicions that this was more than just a lucky happenstance shot. This thing really had developed some way to sense her presence through all those protective barriers. She almost wanted to hit the purge button now regardless of the lack of a breach in the seals. Who knows what this thing was capable of if it had developed some sort of new sensory organ that could do this all in the span of a few minutes? Ellie asked herself what protocol would dictate and couldn't really come up with a clear answer, so she then asked herself what Admiral Lisattra would do. Lisattra would undoubtedly purge the whole thing, she figured. Besides, she was replicating new viral samples as this was happening, and they had no lack of test subjects. She could easily start a new test on an entirely different organism, one that was less complex and potentially threatening, like a moss or lichen. She reached for that purge button a second time only to be interrupted by an insistent whining alarm from her incubator station.

"Christ what now?" She growled, jumping to her feet and rushing over to the station.

When she looked inside her jaw physically dropped when she saw what was happening. Several of the sample dishes had developed thin films of living, pulsating black flesh inside them, and four of them had developed tentacle-like pseudopods that had shoved the lids off of the dishes and begun to probe around the inside of the incubator! Ellie's heart leapt up into her throat and she immediately hit the Purge button on the incubator, causing roaring orange flames to blast up from holes in the floor of the chamber, scorching everything inside to a crispy, carbonized black.

"Fuck me! Holy fuck what even is this shit?!" Ellie gasped as she watched the flames reduce the fleshy samples to ash.

The incubator wasn't capable of reaching the same colossal temperature as the main test chambers but it didn't seem to matter, once the flames died down the inner sensors gave an all-clear chirp indicating that the interior had registered as fully sterilized. Quick thinking had saved Ellie from causing a deadly breach already and she was only a few hours into her shift. She took a few deep breaths to try to calm herself down, then remembered the test chamber and began to head back to it with purpose in her stride.

"Alright you slimy little shithead, I'm not taking any more risks. Maybe some Archaebacteria will make safer, more inert test subjects than you. I was a real dumbass starting with something as complex as a rose plant as my first test subject. Let's just start with a clean slate and-"

Ellie trailed off when she saw something truly interesting had happened inside the test chamber. The infected plant seemed to be wilting! The squirt pods had shriveled up like deflated balloons and the leaves were curling in on themselves. All those slimy tentacles had gone limp. She stopped reaching for the purge button and furrowed her brow.

"Hold up just a second, what's happening now? Why suddenly start dying like this?"

Ellie grabbed the controls of the robotic armature again and switched it back to the camera attachment, which she used to examine the specimen a second time. The results were immediately apparent, the thing looked woefully dehydrated. The soil was bone dry and the slimy mucous sheath had dried up.

"Oh-ho, poor thing used up all its water trying to infect me huh? Kind of a high risk play, betting the life of your only host on a gambit to spread the infection to me."

On a whim Ellie then looked over at the microscope feed. The cellular sample she'd taken also looked a little withered. The amount of mutant plant cells had multiplied wildly to nearly 10 times the number that had been there previously, but the sample had dehydrated so thoroughly that the cells were shriveling and going into what seemed to be some form of stasis. The cells weren't dying yet, but it was clear they desperately needed more water to keep growing at the rate they had been.

"Bingo, found your first weakness. You're a thirsty bitch. Now I have a way to regulate that wild growth of yours, it seems."

Ellie smiled and then reached down to close the plastic cap back over the purge button as her body began to relax again. She reached over to skip her playlist to the next track, which turned out to be Bach's Toccata and Fugue in D Minor, a fitting track for the rush of devious delight Ellie was feeling now that she had the upper hand again. There was plenty more testing to do, and now she wasn't nearly as nervous about it.

Chapter 3: The Thirsty Bitch

Lunch was quick and bland for Ellie; she only took half an hour off the clock to cram a sandwich and some coffee down her gullet before scrubbing back in. She picked the cheapest option: processed institutional ham product and artificial cheese spread on the stiffest white bread one could imagine. It was no better than prison food, but Ellie wasn't eating for the sake of enjoyment. She just needed the bare minimum caloric intake to avoid negatively impacting her work performance so she could get back to studying 35634R. She was filled with ideas for new experiments now that she knew how to control its growth by limiting water supply.

"Did you have a good lunch, Dr. Marcelline?" Persephone asked as Ellie approached the inner lab door in a fresh isolation suit.

Ellie gave a cynical chuckle as she replied. "Where exactly do you think I could possibly obtain decent food on this death trap of a station, Persephone? Aside from stealing from the private stashes of the officers in charge that is."

"Hey I wouldn't judge you for taking one of Admiral Lisattra's hoagies." Persephone replied with a sly smile.

"You might not judge me for it but I know that you'd be obligated by your programming to report it." Ellie replied as she punched her passcode into the terminal next to the door.

"Hey now, don't blame a woman for her programming Ellie. I don't blame you for your genetic traits after all."

"Oh don't worry, there's no blame here, just practicality. Now if you'll excuse me I have a mutagenic super-plague to study, my dear."

"Of course, have a productive afternoon, Doctor."

Ellie smirked a little bit as she walked through the lab door. She had to admire the work of the AI Engineers who had designed the personality template for the Station Systems AIs used by the Concordat, they were all always so witty and charming. She paused for a quick moment to ponder whether to put her music back on again, then decided to skip it so that she could concentrate more easily. It had turned out to be a lot more distracting than she had expected when she played it before lunch, so perhaps it was best that she guaranteed her focus remained sharp by working in silence from now on.

When Ellie returned to her test chamber she found the mutated rose creature still just as desiccated as she had left it. It hadn't exhibited any more transformations in the time she was gone, but it still registered as quite alive on the sensors. This boosted Ellie's confidence even further as she walked over to check Test Chamber 3. Before lunch she'd requested a small portable sample incubator to be imported into Chamber 3 to act as a replacement for the main incubator she'd tried to use in the main lab area proper. There it was, plopped right in the center of the test chamber and already hooked up to power.

"Good. This dinky little thing may not make many extra samples but at least it won't kill everyone if one of the fuckers breaks loose again. Though this time I think I'll seriously reduce the water supply to the agar medium." Ellie mumbled her plans to herself.

It took some more tedious work dealing with the security procedures to transfer a new sample from Chamber 1 to Chamber 3, and even more time to get the sample dishes set up. Using a remote-controlled armature slowed the process down tremendously, causing Ellie to waste more than an hour. When it was finally done, she headed back to Chamber 2 and got to work. She couldn't request a dedicated water supply pipe for the chamber since that would provide a direct avenue for infection to climb up the line and into the rest of the station, but she could request a container filled with water connected to a valve and feed tube that she could control remotely. This took yet more tedious time, causing Ellie to lose track of the hours while the systems to set up and delivered it to the chamber, especially since it had to cycle through an airlock to get inside due to the presence of a live, infected specimen. She was starting to realize that this was the kind of tedious bullshit that she was used to having lab assistants to help her with and now she was paying the price for her solitude. Either way, once she finally got the water pipe pointed at the withered rose creature and turned on the water, her mind entirely refocused on studying the effects and forgot her irritation.

Ellie began the flow at a gradual dribble. Just a few mL every few seconds dripped from the tip of the 1cm wide plastic tube extending from the huge jug of water that had been brought in. It soaked into the soil gradually while Ellie watched with her eyes glued to the window. There was a bit of a delay as the water diffused through the soil and took its time to reach the roots of the creature, but once it began to flow into those roots the response was immediate. Starting from the base of the stem the skin began to rehydrate and glisten again, while the wrinkled withering patterns starting to smooth out. The progress was faster than Ellie had expected, but still would need twenty or thirty minutes to completely revitalize the entire creature. Ellie tapped her fingers on a bare segment of plastic console and hummed impatiently as she watched the creature gradually come back to life. She was starting to feel highly impatient after wasting so many hours of her shift on dry procedural work, she wanted some more amazing results to record like earlier that morning. Soon her shift would be over and there were no provisions for overtime given how a lack of rest could negatively affect her work. That impatience led her to dial up the knob on the water flow, turning it from a dribble into a steady constant trickle that began to more thoroughly soak the soil.

"Come on you little fucker, give me a show. And don't waste all the water on trying to spray me this time alright? If you can create entirely new tissue types and organs, show me something really interesting!" Ellie growled.

The increased flow began to give her exactly what she wanted in a very prompt manner. The whole plant revitalized in a few more minutes and its glistening black branches began to move again, wriggling and whipping around the inside of the test chamber. As Ellie watched the stem began to pulsate and throb energetically from top to bottom. The tentacle branches began to grow longer and thicker, while the stem started to visibly expand and grow. Ellie's heart began to race again as the same tense excitement started to pump through her mind and body. Something about that undulating, veiny alien flesh was highly erotic in ways that she still struggled to consciously acknowledge. She keyed her recorder again and began to dictate more notes.

"Subject has reanimated from its previous motionless, semi-wilted state after a steady stream of 3ml/sec of water was applied to the roots. Growth of the subject's body resumed immediately after the last vestiges of dehydrated tissue returned to baseline hydration, implying that the mutated subjects can only continue mutating while fully hydrated. Growth is progressing at a steady state of..."

She paused again to do a little more mental math as she watched it grow.

"Approximately 1mm per second. It is developing additional vascularity and elongating all its tentacles at an even, equal pace. I am going to increase the flow of water even more to test whether this produces a commensurate increase in growth rate."

She dialed the knob up even more, now giving it a steady stream that poured into the soil. Somehow the plant managed to continue absorbing it all, not a single ounce pooled up over the rim of the pot. Ellie's suspicions proved to be completely correct too, the pace of growth ramped up considerably. A handful of seconds after the water flow had increased, the brown ceramic pot containing the creature suddenly shattered into a dozen loose shards as the mass of the ever-expanding root system grew too large for it to hold. Loose dark soil spilled all over the floor of the containment chamber as the slimy black tentacle roots flopped out in all directions and came to rest, brushing aside pottery shards. Then something happened that caused Ellie's jaw to drop in amazement: the roots began to morph and form orifices like mouths, which started to scoop up and swallow the soil whole!

"What the f-"

She stopped and deleted her sudden expletive from the log before resuming. "My suspicions were correct, growth has increased fivefold, leading to the structural failure of the clay pot containing the roots. The roots have mutated mouth-like openings and begun consuming the loose soil."

Ellie paused to watch for awhile longer, needing to take a moment to digest what she was seeing. It only took a few seconds for the creature to completely devour every significant scrap of dirt larger than a sand grain, and Ellie could see the bulges traveling up the tentacles from the mouthfuls it had gulped down. Her eyes couldn't help but follow those bulges as they traveled rapidly up to the stem, which was now more than four inches thick and starting to resemble more of a tree's trunk than a thin little stem. The trunk was growing taller and taller by the second, and then one of the tentacle roots jerked over and wrapped one of its mouths around the opening of the plastic tube that was still supplying water.

"Subject has now attached a newly formed mouth to the water pipe and is absorbing the entire flow directly. So far it doesn't seem to be growing up inside the pipe so I will not cut the flow just yet. I'm setting the system to immediately shut the flow valve if any organic material is detected growing into the pipe though, just so it doesn't break into the tank and start growing massively out of control."

The growth continued unabated, and as Ellie watched she could see musculature and tendons and more veins forming in the trunk and all the root and branch tentacles. The definition was growing clearer, implying a serious increase in physical strength. Tentacle branches were now long enough to reach all corners of the chamber and were actively exploring and probing every surface they could find, leaving smeared trails of infectious mucous behind. The tentacle roots were proliferating rapidly, branching and splitting and multiplying as the creature drank freely of the water she had given it. The writhing masses of fleshy tendrils began to weave together as they spread out and coated the floor of the chamber, forming a thick living mat of flesh. The individual roots even began to fuse together, forming a solid fleshy base in the center. As the trunk began to approach the ceiling of the chamber though, Ellie snapped to her senses and hit the cutoff switch.

"Ok you greedy fuck, that's enough. I don't need you blocking off the access doors with your growth." She mumbled during a brief recording pause, then resumed. "Water supply flow terminated approximately 11.2 minutes after initial revitalization began. I suspect the subject may have begun storing some of the water in an internal reservoir chamber in order to prevent future withering or to allow additional growth beyond the cutoff of supply."

Then Ellie spotted something that had been escaping her notice for awhile due to her focus resting on the roots and trunk. New structures were beginning to form on the creature's upper limbs. Adrenaline pounded through her veins as she struggled to describe them out loud for her recording. Now she couldn't deny it, not only was she turned on by what she was seeing, but she was really really horny for it.

"New organs have begun to develop on the subject's upper branches. The spray pods that the subject used to attempt to infect me earlier have sealed up and grown much larger, each now approximately 6 inches in diameter and covered in vascularization. The tissue seems to be splitting open again, but they're not spraying fluid out this time. They seem to be splitting open like flower buds....They are! They're mutated flowers."

She was at a loss for words as she took in the sight. Four huge blooms opened up inside the chamber, each one with black leafy sepals and vivid red fleshy petals. The petals were just as mobile as the rest of the plant creature's body, they flexed and flapped themselves open and closed slowly. But instead of the traditional pistil or stamens that flowers usually possessed, a 3 inch long erect alien phallus formed in the center of each bloom, complete with a recognizable ruby red head and a semi-canine knot at the base! These blatant, throbbing members began to ooze thin tendrils of clear liquid that Ellie assumed to be some sort of precum, and then the flapping motions of the petals began to stroke the shafts as though the flowers were shamelessly jerking themselves off. Puffs of some sort of clear, indistinct pink gas or powder began to puff out of all four flowers, dissipating into the air inside the chamber rapidly. Suddenly her console chirped loudly with an alarm signal. She looked down and saw a simple, stark warning on her screen:


"Fuck me!" Ellie gasped, then typed in the command for another status report for the chamber's seals.

The adrenaline calmed down a bit when she saw that once again all systems reported nominal. She immediately turned her gaze up to watch the plant creature some more, curious to see if anything else happened. The growth finally slowed to a stop, but this time it stopped before the creature reached a desiccated state. The blooms continued to puff their pollen, or whatever it was they were puffing, and the tentacles continued to wiggle and sway around the room curiously, but for now it seemed to finally stop growing and forming new organs entirely. Ellie waited for a little while longer to be certain it was done, giving herself time to come up with words to describe what she had seen before flipping the recorder on one more time.

"I struggle to find words to describe what is happening. These mutant flowers resemble...humanoid male genitalia. They are...moving in a way that is difficult to convey professionally in a scientific tone. They are producing a cloud of some kind of aerosol, though the internal sensors can't identify it. It could be a pollen, spores, or some kind of pheromone gas. I'll need to capture a sample to study, but I am afraid to open the upper chamber door to bring gas sample canisters into the chamber. The creature is still mobile, and given its earlier demonstrated ability to sense my presence through the chamber walls, it very well may be able to sense when the door of the test chamber opens and reach its tentacles up through. I'm going to need time to consider how to proceed from here. My shift is going to be over soon, it may be wise for me to suspend testing for the moment and come back tomorrow with a fresh mind."

Ellie turned off the recorder and then looked over at her clock. 4:32PM. Damn. Still almost half an hour left in her shift. Not enough time to start any other experiments of significance, but too much time to punch out early without setting off Lisattra's bitch mode. She decided to leave the creature alone in Chamber 2 and re-check the samples in the Incubator in Chamber 3. Thankfully the reduced water supply had proven effective in preventing more tentacled flesh from springing out of the petri dishes, but there was a familiar, recognizable black slimy film of biological matter growing in every single dish. Feeling vindicated, she spent the last few minutes of her shift taking the fully infected dishes out of the incubator and injecting them into sample vials to be sealed and stored for future experiments. As she got the last vial tucked away on a rack at the back of the chamber, she pondered what her next experiment was going to be like.

"Hmmmm, tomorrow morning I think we'll test you on something new, 35634R. If you behave yourself and don't make your little plant friend try to break containment while I'm off tonight, I think I might give you an animal to infect next. I get the feeling the results will be even more spectacular."


Re: Mutagen Origins - by LadyLightest

Chapter 4: Sweet Dreams

It wasn't too unusual for Elizabeth Marcelline to struggle with stress during her off hours on the station due to the nature of her job. She'd worked on more than her fair share of highly contagious and lethal pathogens, and most folk she knew would understandably develop some sort of anxiety disorder or nervous tic from all that. But this... thing. This 35634R as the Remarians called it, it was disturbing in an entirely different way than what Liz was used to. So when she got back to her meager little quarters and sat down alone at her table in her skivvies, her mind couldn't help but obsess over what she'd seen.

Normally Liz had a fairly well practiced coping regimen she followed every night that took the edge off of her stress. She'd light up another cigarette, put on one of her slower-paced playlists of classical music, brew a cup of soothing peppermint tea, and then sit down to work on writing more of her erotica stories for her friends online. But since that bitch Lisattra had ruined the writing for her with that upload limitation, she found herself unable to face the blank screen of her word processor. Without the ability to share her creativity with her friends online, the magic was simply gone for her. Liz's muse had up and left, and she grumbled in frustration as she took a drag on her cig and stared at the screen. She tried to reason with herself, telling her mind that it didn't matter if she didn't upload them right away, she could take digital copies with her to her next shore leave in a few months and upload them from a planet's open network that didn't have any connection time limits. But the muse was a fickle thing; once the damage was done there was no talking it into coming back. So Liz sat there and silently percolated in her frustration while her thoughts wandered unfettered. It wasn't long before they drifted back to the topic of 35634R.

Just what the fuck was this bug anyway? She'd never seen a virus particle that fuckhuge before, nor had she heard of a pathogen able to induce such drastic mutations. Mutagenic viruses usually just led to malforming a cell's proteins in a way that led to cell death, or in unlucky cases, caused the cell to become cancerous. The idea of introducing the morphological traits of animal cells into a plant cell was something out of cheesy science fiction novels. Novels like the ones she liked to write. Like what she was trying and failing to write. She grumbled angrily to herself as she lifted her mug of tea to her mouth and took a gulp.


She trailed off before she could complete the thought. Her mind was wandering off toward speculating about the origins of the virus. What kind of conditions could lead to the evolutionary development of something this bizarre? She recalled that Lisattra mentioned that it had been discovered on a desert planet, but that just didn't make sense. The virus's mutated hosts seemed to have a crippling tendency to burn through water at an amazing pace to fuel their transformations, and dehydration paralyzed them. Wouldn't this make them especially ill suited to such an environment? Then something struck Liz and made her realize she had been a goddamn idiot before. Lisattra had given her a complete textual transcription of the audio log from the team that had discovered it, and she had just skimmed through it without even paying attention. She slammed her face with her palm as she realized just how fucking dumb that was, especially with something this dangerous. She was too used to the easier stuff she'd been working on, and had been too distracted by how pissed she was at Lisattra during the meeting. Reading that full log should have been the very first thing she did after getting her samples into the gene sequencer and incubator. She got up from her table and headed over to grab the locked steel briefcase that those paper transcripts were stored in, then carried it over to her table and brushed aside the holoscreen of her terminal. That was when she remembered the Omega Prime classification rules and caught herself. It was a good thing she didn't open that damn thing before securing her quarters.

"Hey Persephone, I'm going to be reviewing the documents about 35634R. You know what that means, enact Omega Prime security protocols for the room." Liz called out, knowing the AI was listening through microphones in the walls.

"Acknowledged, Doctor. Locking the door to the room, disabling all internal cameras, disabling all internal microphones, logging out all digital terminals. You will now need to manually log in again and intentionally re-enable all systems before you can interact with me again. Have a good evening."

There was a soft beep at the end of the AI's reply to indicate it had shut off the speakers and mic it used to communicate, and now Liz knew it was safe. The music was also cut off at this point too, which annoyed Liz, but she bit back her frustration and got to work. She twisted the metal rings of the manual mechanical number lock on the briefcase to input the correct passcode and then flipped it open. It merely contained that same thin manila envelope that Lisattra had given her that morning and was otherwise quite empty. She grabbed the folder, tossed the briefcase aside, and splayed the papers out on the table in front of her. With another drag on her cig, she flipped through the papers to get them back into proper order and then found the first page, which thankfully included basic information about the team present at the time of the incident.


(Escort Squad provided by Akagi Securities Limited)
-Sergeant Jacob P. Chamberlain, Escort Squad leader - Human, male
-Private First Class Erika F. Holden, Escort Squad member - Human, female
-Private Sharlyys Ventril, Escort Squad member - Sarienne, monogender feminine
-Private B'neth Arr-Glin, Escort Squad member - Gol'remar, male

(Researchers provided by Ranlaak Logistics of Remaria)
-Doctor Sh'rith Alros, Climatologist -  Gol'remar, male
-Doctor Dwight Ericsson, Xenobiologist - Human, male

Beneath this crew complement was a run down of the squad's equipment that Liz gave a cursory skim, just enough to make sure she understood what they were geared for. They had been wearing environmentally sealed standard EVA suits that were custom tailored to desert planet environments, including advanced cooling units and hydration retention systems. They had minimal weapons, as the planet was already surveyed and confirmed uninhabited, and the desert biosphere didn't support wildlife large or strong enough to consider humans or humanoids prey, though they at least had standard laser pistol sidearms. Doctors Alros and Ericsson were carrying portable suites of research tools including scanners and sample harvesting probes and containers. They had navigation tools that included a spooling tether and a flare launcher that could fire off clamping flares to latch onto cavern ceilings to provide light. They had arrived on an Akagi Securities Limited dropship that was based out of the scout cruiser RCS Shadowed Lariat, which had been in geosynchronous orbit above the site of the incident at the time. It seemed like everything had been prepared for properly and their scouting mission had been going tightly by the book up until the incident in question. The transcript started at their entry into the cavern chamber where the first host had been found.

VENTRIL: Hey Sarge, the tunnel is opening up ahead. Looks like a big chamber, maybe 50 meters wide. My helmet light can't reach the far end. I think I see water!

CHAMBERLAIN: Water?! You been chewin' more of that funny Lassian Root back on the ship again Ventril? There's no water on this goddamn planet! Get out of the way Holden.

[Shuffling noise as away team turns corner and enters the chamber]

ARR-GLIN: This room is big enough for the flare launcher. I'm putting one in the ceiling, heads up!

[Banging sound as Private ARR-GLIN fires his flare gun, following by a loud crack of the flare embedding in the ceiling]

HOLDEN: Holy shit look, there is water, a whole goddamn oasis!

ALROS: Well I'll be a son of a Sarienne!

VENTRIL: Hey, stuff it three legs! Look Sarge, I told you I saw water!

ERICSSON: Wait hold on, what the fuck is that?!

[Brief pause, shuffling sounds as ASL escort squad members draw their side arms.]

CHAMBERLAIN: Easy now Airedales, it's just a fuckin' plant. Lower your goddamn weapons!

HOLDEN: I ain't ever seen a plant what looked like that sarge! Look at it! Are those mouths?!

Liz paused her reading at that point and grumbled to herself in frustration.

"Goddamnit, didn't these assholes have mission cameras built into their suits? Some video footage of the creature would be really nice right about now. Hell, even still pictures of the plant thing would go a long way at this point!"

She then took a deep draw from her cig and then continued to read.

ARR-GLIN: Holden, have you forgotten we're on an alien planet? Did you expect us to be running into Earth petunias here?

HOLDEN: I don't know about you but I wasn't expecting any sort of plants here period. Hey Dwight, what do you make of that thing?

ERICSSON: It's certainly unlike anything I've ever seen! Think we can risk going around the water to get a closer look?

CHAMBERLAIN: Alright but keep your eyes peeled, I don't want anyone slipping and falling into that pool!

[Approximately 47 seconds of quiet shuffling as team moves around the edges of the oasis pool and approaches the alien organism]

HOLDEN: Jesus Christ above, what even is this thing?

ERICSSON: Whatever it is, its roots seem to reach down to the edge of the oasis. Look, this must be how it's surviving despite the planet's arid climate.

ALROS: Something strange is going on here Ericsson, there shouldn't be an oasis like this here. We've been scanning and surveying the planet for months and the atmosphere and crust wouldn't support it. It should have sank down into the ground long ago.

ERICSSON: I'm well aware of that. The rocky floor beneath it must be watertight, but that still doesn't explain why natural evaporation hasn't depleted it. I'd like to get some samples of the creature, hand me a jar and a probe tool please Sh'rith.

ALROS: Alright.

[Brief pause, shuffling of tools and instruments]

ALROS: I'm no xenobiologist myself but if I had to guess I'd say you should try taking from the roots. Those mouth bulbs are... disconcerting.


[Brief pause, followed by a loud shuffling disturbance as the whole team recoils backward. The alien organism has moved in response to the sample probe breaking its skin.]

HOLDEN: What the fuck?!

[Loud crash as Private ARR-GLIN falls in the ensuing shock and scramble and ruptures his helmet's visor]

ARR-GLIN: [Indecipherable swearing in Remarian]

CHAMBERLAIN: Fuckdamnit Arr-glin I told you to be careful about the damn slippery rocks!

ARR-GLIN: Shit! My helmet! I broke the glass!

HOLDEN: [Raising her weapon] If that fucking thing moves another inch I'm gonna frag it!

ERICSSON: Would you calm down and back off you idiots?! Just stay out of reach, the creature doesn't even have any weapons! It can't hurt any of us!

CHAMBERLAIN: Arr-glin you clumsy piece of shit, stand back! Just stand back! And Holden put the goddamn gun down!

[More shuffling as the squad moves back away from the organism]

VENTRIL: Sarge, I don't know, I don't like the looks of that thing. It's moving again! I've never seen a plant move on its own like that.

ALROS: Dr. Ericcson, do you think you can still get any more samples without being... well, grabbed?

ERICSSON: Maybe, if I'm quick. I'll just... go for... the closest branch.

[Brief pause as Dr. ERICSSON reaches out and successfully attempts to cut the tip off one of the organism's tendrils. Audio is distorted here, as the plant fires off a spray of liquid into the squad and Private HOLDEN opens fire]

CHAMBERLAIN: Holden goddamnit hold your fire!

ARR-GLIN: [Sputtering and indecipherable swearing in Remarian]

HOLDEN: Fuck this shit! Fucking spitting plants!? What fucking next?!

ARR-GLIN: Lux Damnit, I got some of it in my mouth! Tastes like sugary broccoli water! BLEAGH! [Repeatedly spits]

CHAMBERLAIN: Arr-Glin I swear if your scaly ass just got contaminated with some sort of alien disease I'm going to bust your ass back to Remaria so fast you'll think my foot was an FTL drive! Everyone pull back!

[Further shuffling sounds as the team begins to rapidly retreat out of the chamber]

ERICSSON: Hold on Sergeant, just let me get this sample sealed up in a jar first! This could be-

CHAMBERLAIN: I don't care if it could cure ass cancer Dwight, we are leaving! Get moving!

[Sound of shuffling and glass shattering as Sergeant CHAMBERLAIN grabs Dr. ERICSSON and drags him out of the room, causing him to drop the glass sample jar on the floor and shatter it.]

ERCISSON: Sergeant! Damnit, I need at least something to show for this outing! I-


Liz rolled her eyes and took a quick break from reading. If this hadn't been legitimately classified official documentation that she'd gotten from the higher ups she would have thought it was a cheesy movie script from some sci-fi schlock written on Earth a few hundred years back. Sergeant Chamberlain fit too many jarhead military stereotypes for her to believe he was a real person. And yet here it was, stamped with all the official military seals as a real document. She heaved a sigh, sipped her tea, and took another drag to finish her cig before continuing to read.

The next segment of the document was a dull recount of the team returning to their dropship and taking off. Chamberlain berated Arr-Glin some more along the way while the two researchers discussed decontamination and quarantine protocols, but otherwise nothing seemed to happen. Things didn't get interesting again until they were all aboard the dropship and heading back to orbit to rendezvous with the Shadowed Lariat.

CHAMBERLAIN: Shadowed Lariat this is Chamberlain. We're heading back to orbit now, requesting docking permission.

OPERATOR: Sergeant your crew seems to be returning more than an hour ahead of schedule. Is everything alright?

CHAMBERLAIN: We've made contact with an alien organism in a cavern on the planet's surface. One of our squad members fell and ruptured his helmet visor and may have been exposed to an unknown liquid substance that may or may not have been carrying foreign pathogens.

OPERATOR: Sergeant you know we're going to have to enact quarantine protocols on the shuttle then.

CHAMBERLAIN: I'm not an idiot, lieutenant! I know that! We can decontaminate on site after landing aboard the Lariat!

OPERATOR: I'm going to need to verify this with Captain Javith before I can grant docking permission. Move to a holding pattern in the mean time please.

CHAMBERLAIN: Damnit, fine.

ARR-GLIN: Hey guys... I'm starting to feel kinda funny.

HOLDEN: Oh boy here we go.

ARR-GLIN: Seriously guys! I feel weird!

VENTRIL: Ok do either of you eggheads know anything about medicine? Alros? Ericsson?

ALROS: I'm not that kind of doctor, Private.

ERICSSON: I've touched on some alien pathogens, I'll handle this.

[Shuffling as ERICSSON produces a basic medical scanner and moves over to sit next to ARR-GLIN]

ERICSSON: What are your symptoms, B'neth?

ARR-GLIN: Feeling kinda woozy. Light headed. Maybe a bit feverish too. Also pretty fatigued. Might need to lay down.

ERICSSON: Well take some long, deep, soothing breaths for me so you don't hyperventilate alright? If you've got a pathogen then you know we have one of the best med bays in the fleet back on the Lariat. If we need to we can put you in cryo-stasis until we can get back to Remaria. Even the worst diseases known to the galaxy can't progress while frozen in one of our cryo pods.

ARR-GLIN: Yeah, you're right doc. Thank you. You know, the captain's full of shit, you humans are alright.

ERICSSON: Well I appreciate your generous assessment of my skills, Private. Though I won't go on record contradicting the professional opinions of our dear captain.

[ARR-GLIN, VENTRIL, and HOLDEN all laugh]

[17 seconds of silence pass, followed by a beep from the medical scanner.]

ERICSSON: Hmmm, well you do have a fever. 40 degrees Celsius. That's an inferno for a Gol'Remar like you B'neth. I think you need to go into a cryo pod immediately anyway to prevent you from cooking your brain in your head. Sergeant! We need to dock right away!

CHAMBERLAIN: I'm working on it!

ARR-GLIN: I'm scared doc. You know my people can't regulate our body temperature as well as you mammalian sorts! I don't want to cook myself!

ERICSSON: Don't worry, we'll seal you in the shuttle's medical isolation pod until we get the all-clear to dock at the Lariat. The pod may not be able to put you into cryo-stasis but it can at least assist you in regulating your body temperature. The cooling systems ought to keep you down to a temperature low enough to avoid brain damage. I just need you to strip off your isolation suit, ok?

ARR-GLIN: Well, alright doc, if you say so.

[44 seconds of shuffling noises pass as ARR-GLIN disrobes to his skintight jumpsuit.]

ARR-GLIN: Not sure mnncan finish... gonna pass out.

[Gasps from the squad as ARR-GLIN loses consciousness and begins to fall over. More shuffling as they work together to catch him]

Liz paused her reading again as she noticed something interesting. Arr-Glin had passed out right around when the timestamp on the log showed 15 minutes and 32 seconds since the plant had sprayed him. This was only two seconds off the time period it had taken for 35634R to start showing symptoms in the rose bush she had tested it on. This was utterly fascinating, it implied an extremely quick, efficient, and consistent incubation period for the virus regardless of the species of the host it infected. She initially reached out for her audio recorder to begin dictating notes, but then remembered that she had left it in the lab. She grumbled to herself, remembering that Omega Prime protocols forbade her from taking any sort of digital notes, so she grabbed a blank sheet of paper and a pen and began to write down her notes instead. If this virus had some sort of universal incubation time then this was vital information for her report. She almost wondered just what kind of weird transformation was in store for the poor Private. Once done, she resumed reading.

ERICSSON: Quick, get him inside the pod! He's heating up quicker than I thought! We have to cool him down immediately!

HOLDEN: I got him! I got him! Ventril, get his legs!


[More shuffling, followed by the click of the med pod sealing and a beep as its systems initialize.]

ERICSSON: There. Let me enter in a few degrees cooler than the typical Gol'remar body temperature. That should do it. Now we just have to wait and see if he stabilizes.

VENTRIL: That pod is sealed airtight, right doc?

ERICSSON: Yes that is correct. Why do you ask?

VENTRIL: I'm about to lose my shit if I have to breathe this stuffy recycled suit air any longer. I'm going to take my helmet off. Now that he's isolated in there then it should be safe.

HOLDEN: Hey yeah, good point.

[Clicks and hisses as HOLDEN and VENTRIL remove their helmets.]

ERISCSSON: I'm not sure that's a good idea. We may need to take him out of the pod again at any time.

VENTRIL: And we'll just put them back on before we do, doc. Listen you're not a Sarienne alright, breathing air is already unpleasant enough for us. But when it's hot, dry air then it's ten times worse. I'm going to get some water and if that means I have to go through a ten hour decontamination session then so be it.

ERICSSON: Fine, but I'm not taking mine off until we're all thoroughly sprayed down.

[Clicks and hisses as ALROS takes his helmet off too]

ERICSSON: Et tu, brute?

ALROS: I don't know which one of your weird Earth tongues that was, but either way I didn't understand it. I'm not exactly having a good time regulating my own body temperature in this damn suit either.

ERICSSON: Alright, it's your funerals.

Liz paused here to facepalm quite emphatically. Fucking idiots! They were safe in their isolation suits and decided to take off their helmets in the face of an unknown biological contamination?! Relying on a single point of failure like the seals of a medical pod built by the lowest common bidder of a military contract was borderline suicidal! If they had just kept their suits sealed then nobody would have had to die! She had to remind herself that they didn't yet know the threat level of what they were dealing with and probably weren't totally aware of just how shitty Remarian military equipment could be. She took a bigger gulp off her tea now to finish it before it could get too cold, then resumed.

[Loud chirp comes over the comms as Captain JAVITH picks up on the comms line]

JAVITH: This is Captain Javith. Sergeant what the hell is going on down there?

CHAMBERLAIN: Sir, we discovered some sort of strange alien plant creature down planetside and it sprayed Private Arr-Glin with an unknown fluid. Seems like he just passed out, the doctors suspect he might be infected with an alien virus of some kind.

JAVITH: Sergeant, you do realize that I can't risk the safety of everyone on board this ship for the sake of your team, right?

CHAMBERLAIN: With all due respect captain, these aren't your men to sacrifice. If the higher ups at Akagi realized you let us die then-

JAVITH: Then they'd ask us for a quiet out of court settlement and we'd all agree to sweep this discreetly under the rug where it belongs. May I remind you Sergeant that the fact that you're not my men just makes me less likely to care about your lives, not more.

CHAMBERLAIN: Sir we have valuable research data on board. Data that you and your commanders sent us down here to gather. We can go through full decontamination protocols before unsealing the airlocks, we just need to dock first so we can get energy dockside!

JAVITH: Very well. But do NOT open your airlocks until we've verified complete decontamination. If you violate quarantine I will authorize my men to neutralize you and your team on sight with incinerator units, am I clear?

CHAMBERLAIN: Crystal sir.

JAVITH: Good. Docking permission granted.

[Chirp as comms link ends]

CHAMBERLAIN: Goddamn earless three-legged scale faced shitheads! I hate working for the Remarian Navy! No offense, Dr. Alros.

ALROS: (Tersely) None taken.

[7 minutes pass in silence, followed by thudding clangs as the dropship begins docking procedures with the Shadowed Lariat. Clicks and hisses now mark CHAMBERLAIN removing his helmet too. Then, alarm beeps sound from the medical pod containing Private ARR-GLIN.]

ERICSSON: What the hell?!

HOLDEN: What is it doc?

ERICSSON: B'neth's heart rates are rising significantly. His temperature is climbing again too despite the cooling systems!

ALROS: Is there anything you can do?

ERICSSON: Not without getting him back to the Lariat's medical bay! He might cook himself to death before then though, especially if decontamination takes as long as I fear.

VENTRIL: Can't we like, spray cold water into the pod's inner chamber to cool him off?

ERICSSON: Not without breaking the airtight seal. I don't think-

[Sudden thump as Private ARR-GLIN awakens inside the pod and begins to thrash around and slam against the glass]

ARR-GLIN: Doc! Doc! You gotta let me out! I'm burning up!

HOLDEN: Jesus Christ!

ERICSSON: Private please calm yourself! You have to stay in there, the pod is colder than anywhere else on the dropship! If you break out you'll only be burning yourself up even faster! Let me crank down the temperature dials even further!

ARR-GLIN: Doc it's so hot it feels like I can't breathe! My mouth feels like it's swelling! I'm choking!

ERICSSON: Please private, just take some deep breaths for me! Four seconds of inhaling, five seconds of exhaling. Hyperventilation will only agitate you more!

VENTRIL: Holy fuck look at his mouth! He's... something's....

HOLDEN: Fucking shitfuck! It looks like the lips on that plant's mouth pods!


[Loud crashing sound as Private ARR-GLIN punches the glass of the medical pod, shattering it instantly with one blow. Chaos and indecipherable screaming erupts as ARR-GLIN climbs out of the pod. Loud splattering noises ensue as he begins to vomit clear liquid all over HOLDEN, ALROS, and ERICSSON]



CHAMBERLAIN: Holy fuck, seal the cockpit doors!

[Swishing sound as CHAMBERLAIN hits the button to seal himself into the cockpit, isolating himself from the sprays of liquid coating the passenger compartment.]

VENTRIL: Arr-glin if you don't stop I'm going to put a beam through your fucking skull! STOP!

ARR-GLIN: [Indecipherable Remarian screaming as well as retching]

ERICSSON: Ventril put the gun down! If you pierce the hull then it'll be considered a quarantine breach and Captain Javith will kill us all!

VENTRIL: He's coming right at me! I'm-

[Loud reports of laser fire ring out from VENTRIL's sidearm.]


Liz set down the last page of the log on her table and hummed quietly as she pondered what she'd just read. The sealing of the cockpit at least explained how there were survivors to bring samples out of the whole ordeal, but she of course fully suspected that Chamberlain was still terminated in the aftermath of the incident anyway. If not for quarantine safety then to keep this whole ordeal "discreetly shuffled under the rug" as Captain Javith had put it. Thus was life in the Remarian Navy after all. Still, she found it quite fascinating how many parallels she saw between the log's description of the pathogen's behavior and her own data from testing. Now she had a much clearer idea of what to expect during tomorrow's shift. Of course it didn't answer ALL of her questions per se, but it was illuminating enough to make her consider reading the logs as time well spent.

Unfortunately, even if it had been a productive use of Liz's time, it had the exact opposite effect of what she had hoped for when she started unwinding that evening. Her heart was racing after reading that last section and now she knew there was no way she was going to get to sleep anytime soon.

"Fuck..." Liz grumbled to herself.

With a dutiful resignation she finished writing down some last notes, then stuffed those notes and the log papers back into the locked briefcase. She glanced over at her bed and briefly considered just climbing into it then and there, but she could still feel her heart racing in her chest and she knew there was no way in hell she was going to get any sleep unless she did something to calm herself down first. She sometimes wrote journal entries when sleep escaped her like this, but if she decided to write anything at all regarding her work that day it'd fall under the Omega Prime classification and she'd have to handle it with the same with the same precautions. That meant no digital journaling. Worst of all, even if she did write it all down on paper, there was a good chance that she'd be ordered to hand in ALL documents concerning 35634R once her work was finished, and a paper journal with her thoughts on the virus would be required to be included in such a request. So if she wrote down any of her private sexual thoughts they'd be forcibly taken along with everything else and read by the top brass. No bueno. She only had one choice, she would just talk out loud to nobody in particular and not save any copies at all. She double checked to make sure the microphones and cameras were indeed still off, then began to pace around her room while speaking aloud.

"Dear Phantom Journal, I guess,

"I feel honestly silly talking to you out loud like this but since regurgitating my thoughts has become one of the few ways I've learned to process them, I'll just suck it up and deal with it. I don't feel like going over the bullshit with Lisattra again this morning so I'm just gonna skip that entirely. Work on 35634R has already become... well, let's just call it puzzling. Its size, the sheer quantity of genetic material it carries, the lack of triggering cell lysis during reproduction, the fucking mutations and hybridization. I've studied germs in this field for seventeen fucking years and I've never seen anything even remotely similar. If this fucker had come from some fetid ass swamp planet covered in a primordial cesspit of microorganisms I might have at least somewhat understood its mutagenic qualities, but a dead sandball world? It's so counter-intuitive that it hurts my fucking brain."

"I guess the worst part is what it's doing to my fucking libido. I know I developed these weird fetishes as a teen before I even enlisted with the Remarian Navy, and I certainly didn't ask for an assignment with a mutagen like this, but I feel like it's still somehow my fault for getting trapped in this position. Just thinking about that tentacled... thing in the isolation chamber causes my body to react on a visceral level without my permission. I guess I'm worried that if I keep working on this there's a chance that the constant... need I'd be feeling might erode my judgment gradually over time. I obviously won't be doing anything suicidal, but gods, imagine if I just decided to relieve a little tension while watching it transform and then Lisattra comes in for a surprise inspection. Guh!"

Liz tossed her hands up in the air as she spoke, grumbling in frustration. She circled her room at an increasing speed and took a moment to think before resuming.

"I don't know what to do with this situation. I can't back out or Lisattra will have me court martialed and if I just go on like nothing's wrong then it's gonna be torture. I have to do SOMETHING, but I have no clue what. I guess I could wank myself raw before every shift to make it too painful to even think about getting in that mood, but that just seems like trading one pain for another. I could wank in moderation and hope it's enough, I guess. That seems like the most reasonable course of action. I dunno, I just hate the uncertainty. There's too many uncontrolled variables here. Too many ways for shit to go wrong. I guess I should be grateful for the fact that my muse decided to fuck off over the inability to post my shit. I don't need to be indulging in writing those fantasies right now anyway. I should be putting that shit as far out of my mind as humanly possible until I've completely finished my work on 35634R and put it faaaaaar behind me. Heh, I think I can at least count myself lucky in one regard: Lisattra probably only read that bondage story and nothing else. If she had read the story I wrote about the Seva'kii hybrid tentacle bonding rituals then there's no way in hell she'd have assigned me onto a project like this."

Liz then stopped in her tracks and chuckled. "I dunno, maybe I kinda wish she HAD read it in the first place so I never would have had to deal with this shit. Ah, no, probably not worth the embarrassment and potential court martial."

Liz felt like that was a good place to stop. She had at least stopped her heart from racing now, and it was probably getting late enough that she had to get to bed ASAP. She walked over to a terminal and logged herself back in so she could disable the Omega Prime protocols and put her music back on. The clock already read 11PM now and this made her groan even more. She had to be up at 5AM sharp to get ready for her next shift. Even if she fell asleep right then and there she was only getting 6 hours of sleep at most, and who knows when she actually could manage to doze off. She resigned herself to taking a dose of Diphenhydramine to help her get to sleep despite knowing that it would make her feel miserable in the morning when she woke up before a full 8 hours of sleep could pass. Then she turned out the lights, tucked herself in, and did her best to distract herself with pleasant thoughts until the drug kicked in and carried her off to sleep.


Re: Mutagen Origins - by LadyLightest

Even though the Diphenhydramine did its job and put Liz out like a light fairly quickly, the sleep that came next was hardly peaceful. That stuff almost always gave her outrageous dreams and tonight was no exception. In the dream she found herself walking alone and naked through a dark cave with the only source of light being a flashlight she was carrying. She intrinsically knew that this was the same cave that the Akagi research team had been exploring, even though she didn't actually know what the cave looked like due to the lack of video or images included with the log. Her subconscious was simply painting its own interpretation of the place and making her feel as though she was there. The rocky walls were a dull, indistinct grey and there was a low, mournful howling sound of wind blowing through the tunnels around her. She felt understandably nervous as she wandered down the passage, uncertain what she was looking for but certain she would find it soon. The dream seemed to be operating on autopilot without letting her have direct control over her actions, as she undoubtedly would not have proceeded deeper down into that cave if she had had the choice.

Before long she arrived in the oasis chamber and her brain painted a vivid alien picture of it. There was the pool of water she'd read about, but rather than one small plant in the corner of the chamber, it was a massive tentacled nest of vines and bulbs filling the entire thing. The walls, floor, and ceiling were simply covered in undulating, writhing, glistening moist tendrils of varying thicknesses and lengths. The only area not covered was the water itself, but even there she could see that its slimy "roots" had slid down into the water to cover the rocks at the bottom. The vines were colored with a mixture of traditional bright green that normal plants wore as well as the jet black she'd seen her plant sample turn back in the lab. It had dozens of those thick bulbous pods too, some having mouths with plush lips like the log described, some being more like the squirt pods she'd seen back in the lab. The tentacles were slowly and quietly wriggling and sliding across one another, but once she arrived at the mouth of the chamber they all halted, as if the plant had sensed her.

A storm of mixed emotions raced through Liz's mind. Fear, disgust, fascination, horror, arousal, and the need to know more all flashed through her mind, causing her guts to sink and her loins to burn. Her logical side wanted to turn and run but her lustful side was more than eager to stride right into the tangled warren to experience all the carnal delights it could offer. The dream didn't give her the choice though, it continued to steer her down the path of lust. So she smiled, tossed her flashlight aside, and walked right into the twisted den of corruption.

Almost immediately she could feel it as the warm, wet, slithering tendrils wrapped around her feet and began to coil up her legs. Internally she was shocked at how lifelike the sensations were; usually her dreams never could manage to replicate physical sensation at all, let alone with this degree of vivid clarity. The soft texture of their moist skin was wonderfully velvety and flexible, and the tentacles gripped her firmly without using enough force to make it feel unpleasant. Dozens upon dozens of them reached up from the mass covering the floor, encasing her feet first, then her lower calves, then climbing up her thighs toward her waist and groin. Then she felt them probing tentatively at her womanhood, slowly and cautiously at first, almost as if they were waiting for consent before penetration. Liz's lust was still firmly in control of the dream and so she moaned out an eager affirmation into the still air of the chamber.

"Yes! Take me! Make me one with you!"

The creature didn't need to be told twice. One tentacle slithered up inside her, followed quickly by a second and then a third. Their narrow tips meant all three fit comfortably, and Liz gasped from the sensation. It was so real! Was this actually a dream?! Her knees wobbled as she felt them plunging deeper and deeper and for a moment she nearly fell forward into the mass. But then tentacles darted up to curl around her waist and wrists in order to prop her up and provide support. Those tentacles then began to climb up her arms and torso, encasing more and more of her with every passing second. Yet despite her logical side crying out in alarm in the back of her mind, something about their warm sticky embrace felt so oddly... welcoming. Their grip was gentle and careful as if the creature didn't want to hurt her, and the way they rubbed and pressed against her seemed to convey genuine affection. Everything about the way it moved and behaved communicated a sense that it valued her like a treasure and wanted to embrace and protect her. She could practically sense its loving emotions as if it was projecting them psychically into her mind. She released a soft moan again as those tendrils curled around her perky breasts. The narrow tips tweaked her nipples, causing her back to arch and her muscles to tense.

"M-more!" She gasped out.

It happily obliged.

Deeper and deeper those tendrils plunged, soon finding her cervix and tickling it playfully. Every inch seemed to narrow to fit no matter how deep it went, and they glid so wonderfully against her G-spot. Soon her entire body was encased in warm slimy flesh all the way up to her neck and she couldn't move any part of herself without tremendous exertion. The constant stimulation over every inch of her skin was vivid and overwhelming, and by now her mind was so addled in bliss that she couldn't think straight. The mental sensation of love and protectiveness and possessiveness grew stronger by the second, and then one of the tentacles climbed up her neck to probe at her mouth.

It seemed like taste was the only sense that this dream couldn't mimic. As soon as Liz opened her mouth to welcome that slithery appendage inside, the dream failed to give it any sort of flavor whatsoever. Perhaps her subconscious simply didn't know what it would actually taste like despite the fact that she'd written smutty stories about it before and described it as salty and musky in the past. This began to slightly break the immersion of the dream for her, but that break only occupied her attention for a brief moment since something else began to happen. She saw one of those fleshy pods approaching her face next, specifically one of the ones with a large human-like mouth with plush lips. It grinned at her and then began to morph and transform. It split open along multiple seams like a flower bud and revealed a hollow interior, then moved in to wrap its massive fleshy "petals" around her head! The world went dark as her entire head was encased in it, and that was what finally snapped Liz awake out of the dream.

Liz bolted upright in bed to the sound of her alarm screeching harshly. She looked over at the glowing holo-screen and saw the telltale numbers blinking at her. 5AM was here again. She slammed her palm on the button to squelch the alarm and sat up, panting softly. Her body was overheated and dripping with sweat, and her groin was on fire with need. So it had been a dream after all. She sat in dark silence and took some deep breaths to calm herself down as she processed the experience. Damn, that log had really done a number on her hadn't it? She frowned and closed her eyes, then called out a verbal command.

"Persephone, lights on please. Reduce room temperature to 68 degrees Fahrenheit. Begin Debussy Playlist 4 from the beginning."

"Right away Doctor Marcelline." The AI replied cheerfully.

The bright sterile room lights flashed on and stung Liz's eyes even through her closed eyelids. The music soothed the sting but it wasn't nearly enough to ease the unpleasantness of waking up. She growled wordlessly to herself and scooted to the edge of her bed. There was that horrible grogginess from the Diphenhydramine still in her system. It hadn't had the chance to fully wear off just as she feared and it made her feel like utter garbage. She desperately wanted to crawl back into bed despite the gross, humid heat and sweat. Worse than that she was still desperately horny after that dream had left her hanging. Even if she wanked herself raw in the shower she didn't know how she was going to deal with looking at her subject again back in the lab. It was going to be a looooooooong day.

Chapter 5: Raising the Stakes

Liz was grateful for the near-magical effects that simple masturbation had. A few back-to-back wanks in the shower had cleared her horny thoughts up nicely, and then a big steaming mug of black tea got her caffeinated enough to cancel out the miserable grogginess of the lingering Diphenhydramine in her system. She still felt the exhaustion nipping at the back of her brain though; the caffeine was merely a wall that held it at bay temporarily. She could feel it out there, ready to come swooping back in the moment the tea wore off. She decided to grab a second mug after getting dressed in order to add more to her system, knowing that once she was in her isolation suit back in the lab she wouldn't be able to drink any more. She threw on her skintight jumpsuit and chugged mug number two, then grabbed the briefcase and left her quarters with a resigned sigh.

Normally this walk across the station was highly routine. She had every intersection, pathway, and maintenance tunnel on this shithole committed to memory after living here so long and she could probably even hit the correct floor buttons in the lifts without even being awake. But this time something broke the routine. She was halfway to the laboratory wing when she was interrupted by the sound of a male voice calling out behind her in a casual tone.

"Well well well, if it isn't the famous Doctor Elizabeth Marcelline."

Liz rolled her eyes quickly before turning around to see who was talking to her. She was glad she finished the gesture before turning though, as her gaze fell upon the immediately recognizable uniform of a Remarian Navy Admiral. She instinctively jolted to attention in front of the man and went silent as she took in his appearance. He was a Gol'remar, which were the founders of the Remarian Concordat, of which she was a citizen. They were reptilian aliens with three legs, long tails, green scales, and a fearsome predatory appearance. This one was particularly tall and muscular, having impressive biceps that barely fit in his olive drab uniform. He had especially bright, vivid green scales and a longer, more pronounced muzzle than most Gol'remar. When he spoke he had a thick Remarian accent, which caused his vowels to sound short and choppy while his consonants were thicker and more weighty. His uniform was covered in dozens of medals and pins of various types, indicating that he was a highly decorated officer with plenty of engagements under his belt. Gol'remar culture had a bit of a fetish for military exploits and glory, and this showed in his colorful array of accolades. His name badge read "R. Nassom."

"Sir!" Liz said respectfully.

Admiral Nassom strode up to her and eyed her curiously. He seemed to be sizing her up for a few moments while deciding what to say to her.

"So you're the one Lisattra has assigned to the new top case, eh? She's said a lot of good things about you. You have a very high bar to live up to."

"I won't let her down, sir!" Liz said in a stoic tone.

Of course, deep down Liz was quite shocked to hear that Lisattra had been talking her up. Given how much she loved to get under her skin, she expected her to trash talk her at any given opportunity. Then she realized that perhaps this Admiral Nassom was a lot more of a power player than his rank implied. She had to take this extra seriously.

"Hmm, it's not her you should worry about letting down, Doctor." Nassom said dryly. He then licked his chops in a mildly threatening manner, showing off the razor sharp teeth that lined the interior of his muzzle. "Tell me Doctor, how many other humans are working on your team in the lab right now?"

"None sir, I'm the only person of any species with sufficient clearance to work on the current project. All the others have been assigned to shore leave for the entire duration." She replied.

"Hmmmm, curious. I suppose it's just a coincidence that Admiral Lisattra, one of the top ranked humans in the Remarian Navy, also chose a human to be her top researcher on a project of this importance?"

Liz steeled herself and kept her expression totally dispassionate even as her gut churned. There was the real reason why this Nassom was here. Humans were a relatively recent addition to the Remarian Concordat, which was a multi-species Galactic Federation with the Gol'remar at the head. Humans and Gol'remar had fought a horrifying war immediately after establishing first contact with each other and had fought to a complete draw after a decade of bloody conflict. Because of this war the Gol'remar had been very reluctant to allow humanity to join their Concordat afterward, despite all the other Federation members absolutely insisting on it. Humans and Gol'remar had had an unsteady peace and understanding since then, but racism and mistrust still was a lingering problem between them. Undoubtedly this Admiral Nassom was poking around for any weaknesses or mistakes that he could then drag out and exploit as a reason to have Lisattra and herself taken off the project. Anger and indignation welled up in Liz's belly; she resented the fact that someone else would want to fuck over her boss. Nobody else was allowed to fuck with Lisattra except her! She bit back that resentment and gave a smooth, neutral reply to Nassom's question.

"It's not my place to question Admiral Lisattra's professional judgment, sir. But I do know she has run a tight ship and there have been no accidental releases of any biological agents aboard this station ever since she took over."

"So I've seen from the records." Nassom replied, maintaining his same cool, analytical dispassion.

He began to circle Liz painfully slowly, his three feet making a distinct clomp-clomp-clomp on the steel grating floor. He was like a predator eying up its prey before a kill, a fact that wasn't lost on Liz since she knew Gol'remar were obligate carnivores who were infamous for killing and eating humans during the war. He seemed to be intentionally allowing a painfully long, tense silence to grow between them as he circled her, waiting for her to make a mistake. Eventually he asked her another question.

"What can you tell me about your current project, Doctor Marcelline?"

"With all due respect sir, nothing while we're out here in a public space. The information is too classified, we need to choose a room and enact proper information control protocols." Liz replied simply.

An angry look crossed the Admiral's face and he bore his fangs at her. Liz's heart rate practically doubled on the spot but she stood firm.

"If you didn't notice, Doctor Marcelline, I outrank you by several measures! I can order you to tell me whatever I like!"

"Respectfully sir, you cannot. Only Grand Fleet Admiral Bevelne has the authority to declassify my current project." Liz replied.

"BULLSHIT!" Nassom yelled, getting up right in her face. He yelled so loudly that it produced wind that blew Liz's hair backward and she felt his spittle speckling her face. "I order you to tell me everything right now or I'll have you hauled off to the brig on the spot!"

"Very well sir. I understand the law, I'll take the brig over the summary execution I'd earn for violating Omega Prime protocols." Liz replied firmly.

That seemed to take the wind out of Nassom's sails. His rage instantly dissolved into an impressed smile.

"Hmm, impressive Doctor. So you do have a spine under that squidgy mammalian skin of yours. Perhaps Lisattra did choose someone with the strength to handle this." He replied, then resumed circling her.

Liz had had a feeling this was a test. She'd gone through similar rituals after being freshly recruited into the Remarian Navy when she was younger. These meatheaded Gol'remar brass just loved their chest-thumping stoicism and machismo.

"Follow me, Doctor. We're going to a private room to enable those information control protocols right now."

"Yes sir. Persephone, make note of this meeting on my schedule so Admiral Lisattra doesn't mark me as late for my shift." Liz said.

"Of course Doctor, meeting has been documented."

Admiral Nassom then led Liz down a hallway to the left and around a few more corners before finding a suitable side room with a table where they could sit. He ordered the proper protocols for Omega Prime as he sat down, then addressed Liz with a more relaxed and informal tone.

"At ease, doctor. I'd like to ask you some questions about your project. Off the record of course."

"Sure thing, but fair warning, I'm only on day two of my research so I haven't had the chance to actually gather and record much data yet. I'll answer to the best of my ability but I'll need more time to get a comprehensive report put together." Liz replied frankly.

Of course, even though Liz was allowing herself to be a lot less formal now at the admiral's behest, she still wasn't planning on tipping her hand completely. She knew enough about Remarian politics to know there was always some degree of backstabbing intrigue going on everywhere at all times, so it was up to her to protect herself and Lisattra as best as she could while still technically following Nassom's orders.

"I understand that, Doctor. With a biological agent this potentially dangerous you really have to, how do you humans say it, cross all your T's and dot all your I's. Doesn't mean I can't try. Tell me, do you think that your lack of lab staff will negatively impact the speed of your work or the safety of the lab?" Nassom asked.

"No sir. If anything it will enhance it. Since you invited me to speak frankly, most of the lower ranked lab staff are utterly incompetent fuckwits. That assessment crosses all species boundaries, including both humans and Gol'remar. They're drunkards and fools, and frankly their continued presence on this station is one of the main points of contention between Admiral Lisattra and I. If I were in her shoes I would have shipped them all off to a different deployment years ago. If I had to guess, I think they're only still here because there's such a shortage of staff with the necessary clearance levels, and that's a problem I believe to be endemic to the entire Remarian Navy, not just this station."

Nassom smirked in amusement and nodded his head. "I see. What can you tell me about this virus itself?"

"Not a huge amount yet. I still haven't even gotten data back from my Gene Sequencers. But I can tell you the basics. It's a retrovirus, which means it uses RNA molecules to inject its genetic material directly into a host cell in order to infect it. RNA being basically like a discount knock-off of DNA, the real stuff that all our cells use to store our genetics. Normally with Retroviruses, the viral genes wait for a specific trigger before starting to make the cell mass produce a shitload more viruses. This goes on until the cell is so full of viruses that it literally explodes, releasing all the new virus particles into the body to begin the cycle anew. But 35634R is unique, it's perhaps the strangest retrovirus I've ever seen. Instead of turning its host cells into suicidal virus factory bombs, it seems to make those cells into slow, steady virus producers without causing them to rupture and die. Moreover, 35634R has at least 20x more genetic material than any other virus I've studied, and the insertion of these genes seems to cause the host cells to mutate and take on alien traits. While it does appear to trigger immune responses such as fevers, it doesn't seem to cause any sort of actual physical damage to the hosts themselves. At least, none that I've seen yet." Liz explained.

"Hmm, interesting. If it doesn't damage the host though, then why do you think it was rated a Rank 10?" Nassom asked.

"Well sir you have to remember that this was an initial tentative ranking. Anytime we encounter a new pathogen and don't have all the information about it, our people have to make an educated guess about its nature until we have had the time to fill in the gaps. Moreover, it's considered wise to err on the side of caution when making initial rank estimates. Better to over-rank a new pathogen and keep it thoroughly contained than to underestimate it and risk letting it cause an outbreak." Liz explained.

"That seems logical enough. Then do you think that 35634R will have its rank downgraded based on what you've observed in the lab so far?"

"To be honest sir? I can't answer that with any measure of confidence yet, at least if I'm answering in a professional capacity. Until I at least get the data back from my gene sequencers it would be highly unprofessional to speculate that much. Speaking off the record though? My personal opinion is that this fucker's gonna stay a 10 easily. You have to remember, the numerical ranking system isn't based solely on lethality. It's a mathematical composite of quantifiable measured traits that include lethality rate, The R0 rating of infectiousness, number and severity of symptoms, longevity of these symptoms, and potential disruptiveness of an outbreak to civilization at large. The mutations I've seen 35634R create seem quite permanent, and moreover would be extremely disruptive to civilization if a large scale outbreak were to occur. And even if its only 100% confirmed vector for transmission is via liquid right now, I have already seen the first test subject mutate in order to produce some sort of aerosol. I didn't dare open the chamber to gather a sample due to the risk of releasing that aerosol, but I have no reason to believe it's not also an airborne transmission vector. Confirmation of that would make 35634R a planet-destroying threat on par with the Xel'Ton Plague. Or worse."

Nassom's semi-casual expression sagged into a look of deadly seriousness. "Hmm, I see. What exactly are these mutations that you've mentioned?"

"It's fucking weird, Admiral. Weirdest thing I've ever seen in my entire career. I'm assuming you've read those audio log transcriptions, right? The ones that described the "Patient Zero" creature as some sort of hybrid plant-animal thing? Well, during my first exposure test in the lab yesterday I managed to replicate that creature. I injected 35634R into a small rose bush and it morphed into a highly motile animal-plant hybrid creature. Not only did it have muscular tissue like one of us, but, well, it did something really really weird that defied my understanding."

"How weird are we talking?"

"Like, not explainable by our current scientific models of physics level of weird. It seemed to sense my presence even though the test chamber is perfectly engineered to not allow any possible types of signals through."

"Huh. Go on..."

"Well, you know how in that transcription, the "Patient Zero" creature sensed the presence of the Akagi team and sprayed them with fluid to infect them? My Test Subject also seemed to do that. But the test chamber is perfectly insulated. There should have been no way for the subject to detect my presence. The chamber blocks heat, light, radio waves, gamma waves, all of it! Yet the thing still sensed my presence and aimed a spray of its infectious juice right in my direction. The wall physically blocked it of course, but frankly I don't have a goddamn clue how it knew where to aim."

"Hmmm, do you suppose it's psychic, like the Seva'kii?" Nassom asked.

"Even if it is sir, psionic frequencies are included in the forms of energy that the test chamber is designed to block. Even a Seva'kii Elder couldn't smash their way through it with their telepathy." Liz replied.

"What are the chances that the chamber's psionic insulation could be flawed even if all the other insulation types are still working perfectly?"

"I'm no materials engineer, but given the rigorous amounts of testing your people did on all the components before installation it has to be an extremely small probability."

Nassom hummed and steepled his fingers, laying his muzzle atop them thoughtfully. He seemed to be struck by a realization, then grinned.

"Doctor, do you know what this means? There's a chance that this test subject of yours may have developed an organic organ capable of a new type of physics. Something that can sense the presence of a living being even through perfect concealment. I don't think I need to tell you how potentially valuable that is, do I? The military applications alone are staggering."

"I had a feeling you would say that." Liz said flatly.

"Doctor, are you familiar with a sapient species of aliens known as the Nyctarians?" Nassom asked.

"Just a little, the common knowledge. That they're a race of weird hybrid reptile-insectoids that love stealth and tend to hate everyone else."

"So you have heard of just how powerful their cloaking technology is then."

"Mhmmm, and I see where you're going with this. You think we could harness 35634R's sensory capabilities to see through Nyctarian Cloaking Devices." Liz replied with a nod.

"Exactly. The Nyctarians are one of the few races in the entire galaxy with technology more advanced than ours. Not even the finest work of all the species in the Remarian Concordat combined can design a sensor suite that can see through a Nyctarian Cloak. If you can analyze and isolate the properties of 35634R's new sensory organ then we could neutralize the Nyctarian threat to our people entirely. You'd be a hero, Doctor Marcelline."

Liz smirked. "With all due respect Admiral, you and I both know that's bullshit. This is all Omega Prime, and any sensor tech I can help you build is going to remain Omega Prime. Nobody in the Galaxy other than top brass like you will ever know I even existed. The idea that I'd be hailed as a hero is laughable."

Nassom smirked right back at her in response. "Well, do you want to be hailed as a hero, Doctor?"

Liz knew what he was implying and she quickly shook her head. "Frankly? Not really. I've designed so many horrible nightmare plagues for you people that there's no way you'd be able to be honest with anyone about me or my career. If you wanted to make me into a hero figure you'd have to fabricate an entirely brand new life story out of whole cloth in order to sell to the public. The idea of me trying to remember and maintain all the details of that insane charade sounds frankly exhausting and miserable even if it does get me ego stroking and ass-pats. Remember admiral, if I gave a shit about fame and glory then I wouldn't have gotten into this line of work in the first place."

"Fair enough. What DO you want then, Doctor?" He asked.

"Me? Well I won't bullshit you admiral, I want money. Cold hard cash. I'm only still here on this miserable tin can of a station so I can finish out and get that pension. If you wanna light a fire under my ass to give you your magical new bio-sensor, then give me my pension early and upgrade it to the next pay grade rank."

Nassom broke out into laughter for a few brief moments. "You know, I see why Lisattra talks you up Doctor. I like you; you have an absolutely zero-bullshit attitude that I can respect the hell out of. Alright, you have a deal. Get me full isolation data on that sensory organ and I'll sign the papers to give you full retirement the moment your report is finished. I'll even give you one better, I'll upgrade you to a Captain's Pension."

"Done." Liz replied, then offered him her hand.

Nassom took it and shook it.

"Just remember what this means. No purging that test subject of yours until you can isolate the organ and obtain a sample of it for analysis. Your new pension relies entirely on figuring this out for me. We don't know if any new additional test subjects will also reproduce that same organ again and if I were in your position I wouldn't want to gamble that entire pension on such a dice roll." Nassom replied.

"I'm well aware, Admiral. I won't be purging it anytime soon, unless it becomes an active threat to the safety of the station anyway."

"Good. I'm looking forward to reading your report." He replied, letting go of her hand.

"Fair warning though Admiral, Lisattra's not going to be happy when she hears that you undercut her authority to yank away her best researcher without consulting her. This place is gonna fucking fall to pieces after I leave and she's gonna want to have your scaly ass for breakfast over it." Liz said with a grin.

"Hah! I think I'd enjoy that, Doctor. Most humans I meet are simply too intimidated by my rank and stature to put up a decent fight. You get bored after awhile when everyone you meet wants to kiss your ass like they're taking it out on a fourth date. I revel in a good challenge."

"Well speaking from experience, hoo boy are you gonna get it." Liz laughed.

Liz didn't exactly initially expect to have come out of her meeting with Admiral Nassom in high spirits. When she walked into that meeting she had been psyching herself up for a total ruination of her day. But now she had a spring in her step as she walked to the doors of the decontamination chamber. The thought of getting out of this hellhole in a few short weeks to live the rest of her life in total comfort was perhaps the best possible mood lifter she could have ever asked for. She forgot completely about her creepy sexual dreams from last night and hummed a cheery tune to herself as she scoured her body clean in the decontamination shower. Even Persephone seemed to notice the change in Liz's demeanor, she chimed in as Liz finished strapping on her isolation suit.

"You seem to be in high spirits today Doctor Marcelline. Psychological profile analyses indicate your current mood status is a statistical outlier compared to your baseline. Gotten some good news lately?"

"You could say that! I'm not at liberty to discuss it presently though, it's a matter I arranged under Omega Prime protocols." Liz replied with a big grin.

"Ah, I understand and will not press any further. As for today's work, I unfortunately do not have any morning data summaries from the lab to present to you due to the Omega Prime protocols. I can only tell you that no isolation seals separating the lab wing from the rest of the station have reported any damage, so the lab is still in perfect isolation. You will have to gather the rest of the information yourself." Persephone replied.

"Thank you my dear, that will be all." Liz said as she typed her passcode into the numerical pad next the airlock leading into the lab chamber.

Liz did admit that she'd miss Persephone once she left this hellhole. The AI was always so unfailingly respectful, clever, and pleasant. Oh well, she'd given up on pleasant people before when she left her hometown to join the Remarian Navy and she could do it again. She put it out of her mind and resumed humming cheerfully as she put on one of her classical music playlists and then walked across the lab to assess the state of things. Her gene sequencer was gently chiming and flashing a green light to indicate it had finished, her sample incubator was intact and finished cycling without being filled with alien flesh, and her little "Subject" in the test chamber seemed to be alive and unchanged upon a brief and cursory first glance. Liz started by looking closely into the incubator to make sure there were no signs of smaller but still dangerous growths and was relieved to see that all the petri dishes appeared to be intact. The black gooey film inside them she'd seen yesterday was thicker now, but the water in the dishes had run out and this had prevented them from growing any further. She then went to check closer on her test chamber, figuring the gene sequencer data could wait.

Almost immediately it became apparent that Liz's cursory glance had missed out on several key developments; her little "Thirsty Bitch" hadn't been sitting completely idle over the course of the night. It had broken into the water tank that Liz had left sealed inside its chamber and completely sucked it dry! The thick plastic tank was totally ruptured by a horizontal squeeze, as though the plant creature had coiled a tentacle around it along the middle and constricted it until it broke. All of the water was gone and the tentacle tree had easily tripled in size using what it had taken. Now the trunk had grown so tall that it had pressed up against the ceiling of the chamber, and the roots and branches had multiplied so strongly that three of the walls of the chamber were completely covered in a mat of living flesh! But oddly enough, it hadn't covered the window. Liz narrowed her eyes as she connected the dots. It really did know there was a window there. She also noticed the fact that the main trunk in the center of the chamber was now over a foot thick and was visibly studded with what could only be described as huge, fleshy human breasts! Once again her heart began to race and her body began to heat up. Even with the relief she'd given herself in the shower that morning, Liz could tell her suit wouldn't take long to start feeling stuffy. With her hand shaking ever so slightly she found her audio recorder where she'd left it and picked it up to begin dictation.

"End log of Day 1. Begin log of Day 2. Time is 7:02AM. Initial observation of rose bush test subject reveals a number of startling developments that have taken place during my evening absence. The most immediate one is the fact that the subject appears to have used its tentacles to constrict the sealed plastic water jug that I had placed in its chamber until it ruptured. This was undoubtedly done to obtain the water within for consumption. The water was completely consumed and undoubtedly used for metabolic growth, which allowed the subject to triple its size. Trunk is over a foot in diameter now, reaching all the way up to the ceiling of the test chamber and pressing against it. The majority of the trunk's outer surface appears to be covered in... human mammary organs. The number and mass of tentacle appendages has tripled as well, to the point where the floor, three walls, and ceiling are all completely covered. Yet the wall which contains the viewing window is totally uncovered, further confirming my hypothesis from yesterday that the plant has a degree of awareness of my presence."

She paused the recorder and then tapped her fingers on her chin. Now that the ceiling was covered there was no way she could open the chamber to collect samples or perform tests on the creature at all. She still had that armature inside the chamber that she could control, and it did have a cutting probe that she could use to try slicing tentacles away from the sealed door in the ceiling, but seeing how the thing had cracked open that inch-thick plastic walled jug like an overripe melon made her think twice. If it ever had reason to consider the armature a threat it probably had the strength to pick it up and rip it to pieces. She felt stumped, so Liz did what she always did when faced with a dead end, she set it aside and temporarily changed her focus to another avenue. So she walked over to the gene sequencer and brought up the results.


At first glance, the output from the sequencer was strange, but in a subtle way. It was standard procedure that the machine opened multiple windows with different sets of data when it finished, starting first with the raw gene sequence and then adding a list of identified genes that it shared with other species. But beyond Liz's cursory glimpse at these, there were two unusual things going on here. The first was in the content of the gene list, the second was an error message blinking underneath the data windows. Liz didn't consciously notice the error message at first because of how utterly transfixed she was by the weirdness in the list of shared genes. It contained entries from a number of known retroviruses from Earth, Sarne, and Remaria, which made sense on its face but gave Liz pause. Was this thing evolutionarily related to life from a bunch of different planets? Had its ancestors been carried from world to world via a starship some time in the unknown past? She scrolled through the list some more and the rest of the entries only deepened the mystery. There were genes directly taken from actual humans, Gol'remar, and Sarienne!

"What the actual flying fuck?!" Liz whispered.

Again 35634R was doing things she'd never even heard of in her entire career. Sure, some viruses were known to occasionally absorb some genetic material from their hosts via a process known as Horizontal Gene Transfer, but it never was done on this scale. There seemed to be thousands of intact human, Sarienne, and Gol'remar genes here. This explained the rows of tits on the trunk of course. It also explained why 35634R was so gigantic in size; it needed the sheer bulk in order to hold all this RNA. But what evolutionary purpose did carrying this many foreign genes serve? She kept scrolling and saw it shared some genes with plants native to a few Remarian secondary planets as well a few genes from the spaceborne alien species known as the Seva'kii, and then the rest was marked as entirely unknown. Once Liz reached the end of the list she noticed that the window which normally contained data from simulating the virus was missing, replaced with the blinking error message that she'd been putting off reading. She brought it up and then frowned when she read it.

"WARNING: All simulation attempts terminated due to timeouts. Estimated required time to completion exceeded the 500 hour set maximum limit!"

"Fuck." Liz growled.

This was the first time that Liz had ever seen this happen. Usually the sequencer was able to handily simulate the properties of a micro-organism using its genome in as little as 10 hours. But for 35634R the computer wasn't strong enough to simulate the entire genome. That made sense, it was only made to simulate the genomes of actual normal viruses, not this bulking behemoth. She'd need a stronger system to actually simulate 35634R. So Liz grabbed a small data chip and put an Omega Prime sticker onto it to mark it properly, then stuck it into the sequencer and copied the entire genome file to the chip. She took the chip over to a much larger computer bank near the entrance of the room and plugged it in, then copied the data over and initialized a simulation. The screen gave her an estimated completion time that still made her groan.

"Time to completion: 39 hours, 42 minutes, 17 seconds."

"Well fuck. Guess this whole project is gonna just keep stretching into eternity isn't it? Fucking hell."

Liz then decided to waste some time on more dull, dry procedure to give her brain some more time to think. First she affixed Omega Prime stickers on the gene sequencer and computer she had used, allocating them for complete wipes and reformats after the project was over. She then walked over to her incubator and got to work carefully pulling petri dishes out one by one to harvest her new samples. She fully expected this to be dull work scraping out the dishes into sample vials and then putting the empty dishes into a sterilizer unit, but there was a part of her that still remembered how huge those growths had gotten yesterday and how they had moved on their own. Her instincts suddenly warned her that this could be more dangerous than she expected, so she frowned and reached in with extra care.

A closer look at the black filmy goop revealed that it wasn't actually solid flesh, but some sort of thick, viscous liquid instead. She was relieved of course. Even though the incubator was physically attached to an isolation hood that she was using to manipulate the samples, she imagined that a living fleshy mutagen creature could still grow fangs and bite through the gloves she was using to work in that hood. Some simple viral ooze was quite safe by comparison. Even if she dropped and shattered a petri dish, the isolation hood would keep it safely contained. The only annoying part was that the ooze was too thick to suck up into a standard pipette. So Liz worked for hours cutting samples of the ooze into tiny chunks and scraping them into vials while letting her brain percolate on what to do next.

Due to the excessive safety protocols that Liz had to adhere to while transferring samples it took two and a half hours for her to properly decant and transfer every single sample to a sealed vial. Technically Rank 10 protocols dictated that she should have been using more of those self-sealing glass jars that her first samples had come in, but the lab here didn't have the capability to manufacture them so she was forced to use the next best thing. At least Omega Prime protocols meant that the lab's cameras were all shut off and wouldn't record her disregarding that safety reg. As she finished up sealing the last vial she counted a solid 50 samples now and grinned. More than enough to fulfil her quota to send to other labs for additional testing with plenty to spare. She could do several more live exposure tests with all these spare samples. Given the simulator wasn't going to finish for nearly two whole days, this would probably be the best use of her time anyway. She smiled as her playlist moved to "Crisotofori's Dream" by David Lanz. Even if this song was a bit anachronistic for her playlists she still loved the broad spectrum of poignant emotions it contained. It made her smile broadly as she began to transfer sample vials out of the isolation hood and into a cryo-storage freezer.

Then, when all the work was finished on the samples, Liz briefly stared into the test chamber with her Thirsty Bitch inside. She checked the readouts and noticed that the aerosol it had been spraying earlier was gone. It must have sensed her absence and stopped producing it. The stuff must have settled out of the air too, as the sensors were no longer displaying any warnings about detecting the unknown airborne agent. The buds it had formed for those phallic flowers also seemed to have closed up. Well, that was a start at least. Still she couldn't help but frown a bit; she still had no idea how to safely open the chamber with all those tentacles on the door. One part of her pondered whether it would even bother reaching its tentacles into the airlock above the chamber if there were no living organisms inside for it to infect. Perhaps it was only focused on other living beings like her? This was still a bit too much of a risk for Liz; for all she knew it might have developed neural tissue too and have some sort of rudimentary instincts to escape.

"Hmph, fucking bitch. I can't purge you, I can't work on you, I can't do anything." she mumbled to herself in frustration.

Out of petty annoyance and perhaps a mote of curiosity, she grabbed the controls on the console for the chamber and used them to steer the armature sitting inside. She jabbed the trunk with its sample-collector needle, almost expecting it to lash out violently in return. Strangely enough the plant hardly seemed to react; it used one tentacle to bat away the armature with hardly enough force to move it. It still made a hearty WHUMP on the robot arm despite the comparative lack of force, but there was no damage.

"Surprisingly gentle aren't you?" Liz mused.

She then decided to just risk trying to use the cutter. She hit the button to swap heads on the armature and a tiny little laser moved up into place. She maneuvered it to aim at the mat of tentacles attached to the roof of the chamber and then hit the firing button. A hair-thin little purple beam flashed on, searing a smoking hole directly through the flesh. Liz couldn't hear it through the soundproofed walls of the chamber, but there was a microphone inside that picked up the distinct inhuman shrieking sound that the creature made. It immediately grabbed the armature with one tentacle and yanked it away, causing the beam to be pulled out of effective range. It then aimed one of its squirter pods right at the laser probe and let loose a spray of the same translucent green fluid. The stuff got into the electronic components of the laser and it shorted out with a sharp electric POP!

"Guess I probably should have seen that coming." Liz grumbled.

Fortunately the plant creature didn't rip the armature apart like Liz had feared. It let go entirely once the arm was wrenched away, contented to have stopped the attack on its body. Fizzling smoke wafted out of the fried laser probe, so Liz swapped it back to the sample needle instead. She grabbed her audio recorder and flipped it back on.

"Time is 9:46AM now. I have attempted to use the laser cutter head on the robotic armature to clear the mat of fleshy biomass from the roof of the test chamber. The subject responded to the damage by wrapping a large muscular tentacle around the arm and pulling it away. It then sprayed infectious fluid into the sensitive laser components, resulting in the cutter shorting out and being rendered inoperable. I suspect that this is an instinctual reaction to any hostile action and is intended to spread the virus to any organism deemed hostile. I do not believe this is evidence that the creature understands how to short out electric components. It returned to its previous docile state afterward, indicating an unwillingness to continue hostile actions even toward a threat that hasn't yet been rendered fully neutralized. I suspect this indicates an evolutionary adaptation toward prioritizing the spread of infection over self defense."

She paused the recording again and hummed as she tapped the console with one finger. The ceiling of the chamber was still covered and now she had no way to clear the flesh away. She still had no ideas for how to proceed and it wasn't even close to lunchtime yet. She knew she needed to shift her focus to something else again in order to let her brain percolate on this problem some more, but what? With the simulator working and her sample incubation work finished, the only thing left to do was either start the rough draft of her report now or move to a new live exposure test on another organism. She hardly thought she could focus on a blank word processor document at the moment now either, so ultimately the only thing left for her was another live test. She threw her arms up into the air and heaved a heavy sigh.

"Well, let's see if Nassom was right about you not wanting to replicate your sensory organ a second time, shall we?" She said, then headed to the next adjacent empty test chamber.

The first thing Liz did was wrangle one of her new virus samples into the robotic systems that accessed the test chamber so it could be put into the inventory of the new armature she was ordering. The whole thing took nearly half an hour more, and when it was finally done the armature was lowered into place along with the sample. Next, she brought up a long list of viable test subjects for this round of testing. The list was impressively long, generating a scroll bar on the side of her holographic screen. All six kingdoms of Earth life were available to choose from: Archaebacteria, Eubacteria, Protista, Fungi, Plantae, and Animalia. There were even choices of kingdoms that were native to several alien worlds in the Remarian Concordat, though she ruled those out for now. She wanted to stick to Earth-based life first to minimize variables. She knew that after the extreme results she'd seen from a plant subject that the wisest choice of action would be to choose relatively simple organisms like Archaebacteria or Eubacteria. Something excessively common and comparatively harmless like Pelagibacter communis would be ideal and almost guaranteed to be incapable of growing massive tentacles to block the access doors. But then again, if it couldn't grow a macro-scale body then it was also unlikely to develop the sensory organ that she needed to isolate for Admiral Nassom.

"Hmm, fuck."

Liz idly scrolled for minutes as she tried to reconcile her need for results with her need to adhere to safety protocols. Her music shifted to Debussy's The Girl with the Flaxen Hair and she took a deep relaxing breath as the soothing piano eased her frustration. It was a short song but it was what she needed. She decided to risk choosing an animal at this point. Fungi were probably even more risky than plants since so many of them reproduced by spores and the last thing she needed was a cloud of 35634R in spore form filling the air in the chamber. An animal would hopefully not produce myriads of tentacles to cover the walls and ceiling like a plant would. Besides... she had to admit to herself that she was curious to see what kind of effects the virus would have on the behavior patterns of an animal with consciousness. She picked the Animalia tab and began to browse through the selections. Of course there were plenty of options from the Rodentia order, as was tradition for these sorts of tests. The brown rat, Rattus norvegicus, was perhaps the most typical choice, but she also could have chosen the animal that lab subjects had been made synonymous with, the common Guinea Pig, Cavia porcellus. She almost went with one of these, but then decided that they probably didn't have enough baseline biomass for the virus to work with while making new mutations. Her gut was telling her that if she wanted to get another copy of the mysterious new sensory organ she had to choose something significantly larger. But she couldn't go too large or else it'd risk being big enough to root itself and grow tentacles toward the ceiling.

Ultimately Liz settled on what she felt was a good median in terms of physical body size: the common domestic house cat, Felis catus. The only option available was an orange shorthair breed, which she didn't mind in the slightest. This at least wouldn't be quite as rambunctious as something like a Siamese or a Bengal. She placed the order, and then while waiting for it to arrive she also decided to order an ample supply of food and water so she could sustain the subject for an extended period of time. Though this time she decided to order the water in a large reinforced steel drum, just in case. The food and water arrived first, with the food being sealed in a steel crate with an automated, remote-controlled dispenser hatch and the water with a similar remote controlled steel valve. If the subject managed to break into these then she'd eat her isolation suit. Then the cat arrived in a simple plastic cat carrier, which the robotic systems opened for the cat so it could climb out. The carrier was then retrieved back through the ceiling airlock so it wouldn't take up any space.

The orange cat looked understandably nervous in its strange new environment. It backed into the corner on the opposite side of the chamber from the armature unit that and stared at it nervously. A small part of Liz felt sorry for the creature now, she was starting to slightly regret choosing a test subject this cute. But she had been in this line of work long enough to learn to divorce her feelings entirely from the well being of her test animals. She had killed countless lab rats with far more painful pathogens than 35634R and had numbed herself entirely to their suffering. Just because this subject was a traditional pet for humans didn't mean she had to disregard her duty. While the cat huddled in the corner, she used the robotic armature to dispense some water into a water dish, then opened the sample vial and emptied it into the cat's water. Now it was just a matter of waiting for the cat to get thirsty and take a drink.

Liz then kicked back and skipped ahead in her playlist while watching and waiting. She settled on Bach's Brandenburg Concerto No. 3 in G Major and then decided to try dispensing some food for the cat too. She figured the sound of the dry food pellets might entice it to come out of its corner and start eating. Unfortunately this didn't seem to be the case, it was far more scared of the armature than it was hungry, so it merely hissed at the whining of the robotic servos and stayed in its spot.

"Damnit cat, go eat! Get thirsty! This shift's gonna be really fucking boring if I have to sit here staring at you for hours while the simulation runs!" Liz grumbled.

She almost gave the cat a nickname at that point while bitching at it, but she quickly reminded herself of the proper protocols for remaining detached from her lab animals. No naming the animals under any circumstance! She crossed her arms and sat there for awhile, hoping that the cat would gradually grow less nervous after the armature went still and silent. She pondered using a prod attachment on the armature to poke it until it left its corner, but then decided that was too cruel even for her. There was dispassionate and then there was being a fucking dick. So she simply settled into her seat and finally indulged herself in some daydreaming. After all, taking the time to be a lazy piece of shit was something Liz had fantasized about yesterday morning when she realized that she was going to be alone in her lab without any oversight. Getting paid to be a useless lump was her ideal dream job after all, why not enjoy doing it now when it was justifiable as part of the task at hand?

Liz's thoughts wandered wildly as she sat there and soaked in the beautiful, complex orchestral tones of the Concerto. She couldn't help but grin as she returned to the thought of her upcoming retirement. A Remarian Navy Captain's pension would buy her a really nice place on a Concordat Core World if she wanted. She pondered that possibility, first eliminating core world candidates from contention in an analytical manner. First to be eliminated was Remaria; sure it was a luxurious and advanced Ecumenopolis filled with all of the best technology and amenities that the Remarian Concordat could offer, but she also knew that its Gol'Remar inhabitants probably wouldn't be too friendly to a human living there permanently. Even if she was legally protected as an equal citizen it wouldn't stop the average Gol'remar common people from treating her with mistrust and disrespect at best. She also eliminated the Sarienne homeworld of Sarne; it was an ocean planet with very few islands where terrestrial beings like her could live and this meant that real estate there was well beyond even her lavish budget. Only billionaires, politicians, diplomats, and their support staff could afford to live there. And Liz certainly didn't feel particularly inclined to undergo all the gene modding necessary to give her gills that could breathe salt water. Even though Sarienne were extremely friendly and welcoming to humans she just didn't want to take up the underwater lifestyle. Of course she also eliminated the Khordalum homeworld of Khelvirth. Even though the galactic community had helped to fully exterminate the lethal infestation of Corpse Shroud Fungus on that planet's surface, the high gravity of the planet would make life there utterly miserable and would guarantee massive health problems later in her life. She didn't feel like dealing with the pain of all her joints deteriorating from stress and strain from the high gravity in her 40s. That left Earth, which made Liz frown. What a boring choice! One of the few perks of working for the Remarian Navy had been getting to see and mingle with dozens of different sapient alien species. The prospect of going back to being surrounded by fellow humans again most of the time was dull by comparison, even if it meant she wouldn't have to worry about all the potential racism and bigotry against her in Remarian culture. Maybe that racism would be worth enduring?

Then Liz was distracted by the sight of movement in the chamber. The cat was getting out of its corner! She grabbed her audio recorder and swapped to a new audio track for the new subject so she could be ready. The cat wandered over to its food bowl, undoubtedly enticed by the scent, but it kept periodically glancing nervously up at the silent, still form of the robotic armature.

"Yes, come on! Eat! I don't want you ingesting this stuff while I'm away on lunch where I can't observe!" She shouted, knowing it wouldn't be able to hear her.

Ultimately it took a minute or two more before the cat finally ate, and just as Liz had hoped, the food made it thirsty enough that it took a few slurps of infected water after it finished.

"Time is 10:16AM, Subject 2 has just ingested water laced with a sample of dilute 35634R. I'm activating a timer to measure incubation period, though I suspect it will adhere to the same approximate 15 minute time period as previously observed." Liz said into her recorder.

Again her instincts proved correct. For fifteen minutes the cat sulked quietly in its corner again without any signs of symptoms. Both external behavior as well as the sensors in the chamber didn't indicate anything amiss. But then at the 15min mark the cat began to show signs of distress and fever; it began to slightly shiver and take shallow, rapid breaths. Sensors indicated its temperature was rising significantly, mirroring what she'd seen both in the rose bush as well as the records of B'neth Arr-glin.

"Approximately 15 minutes and 24 seconds post exposure, subject displays elevated body temperature and behavioral signs of distress. This matches the patterns previously observed. 35634R's incubation period seems to be extremely consistent in its briefness. If the pattern continues unchanged I should begin to see visible mutation in the subject shortly, though I suspect that more complex organisms like animals may require more time to mutate. I'm once again adjusting test chamber temperature levels downward to help alleviate the thermal stress on the subject."

A few more minutes passed and soon the playlist shifted to Bach's The Well-Tempered Clavier, Book 1. The varying playful notes were a little discordant with what Liz was seeing but this wasn't thematically any different from how it had played out during her first exposure test yesterday. This track was also fairly long too since it included all preludes and fugues in all 24 major and minor keys, making it stretch to over just over 2 hours. This suited Liz just fine, as she didn't have to think about flipping through tracks anymore. She was too busy watching for signs of mutation to focus on the music anyway. Though fairly soon she saw the cat lay down and go to sleep, which again mirrored the progression of Private Arr-Glin. She made a note of the subject's loss of consciousness for her log and waited some more.

"Lemme guess, in a few minutes you're going to wake back up and be under the virus's thrall. Question is, will you try to puke on me through the window or will you wander around without any targets?" Liz said out loud.

The cat did eventually wake up as predicted and Liz noted the timestamps involved. Its eyes looked glassy and unfocused and it wobbled a little bit when it stood up, but at first it didn't seem to do anything. Its body temperature was still elevated and it was still panting noticeably due to the heat, but it no longer seemed contented to cower in the corner. Instead it made a beeline right to its water bowl and began to voraciously drink.

"26 minutes and 42 seconds post-exposure, subject has now regained consciousness and has immediately gone to its water bowl to drink. This implies it has not yet developed the same sensory capabilities as the first subject and has therefore not detected my presence. In the absence of any targets for spreading the infection it must have reverted to consuming as much fuel for its transformations as possible." Liz said into her recorder.

While the cat was hunched over its water bowl, Liz finally began to see the first external signs of mutations. Visible rippling movements flowed over its body under its fur, like its flesh was rolling and moving while it drank. Liz stared in rapt fascination and dictated into her recorder rapidly as it happened.

"At 27 minutes and 4 seconds the first visible mutations have begun. Its skin seems to be flowing under its fur like the ripples on a pond, yet it is showing no outward signs of pain or distress. This implies that the transformations are somehow painless. Now its legs seem to be twitching and changing shape. Changes aren't limited to the legs, its whole body shape and bone structure appear to be altering. Its body temperature is continuing to increase so I am continuing with commensurate decreases to chamber temperature. The increase to its metabolic processes must be incredible. Wait... is that?"

Liz paused and leaned closer to the window to squint her eyes. Bulging bumps were forming on the cat's back in vertical rows parallel to its spine. At first Liz suspected that this was the beginning of a fresh batch of tentacles like the ones that grew out of the rose plant. She seemed to be correct at first too, and even began to dictate before having to stop and correct herself as the changes unfolded.

"Bulging nodules of muscular tissue are forming along the subject's back in two clusters of four, arranged in lines parallel to the spinal column. They are swelling out into tentacles now just like the first test subject, though the growth is slower by comparison. I suspect the cat's slower speed of water ingestion compared to the gulping tentacle maw of the plant may be the reason. Wait... no, correction, these aren't just regular manipulator tentacles, new structures are forming on the ends and unfolding. They're... they're leaves! Plant leaves! Seems like the fusion of animal and plant traits is a common theme. They are black in color and are growing slowly, already reaching approximately 5 centimeters long, lanceolate in shape, with serrated edges and parallel vein structure."

Liz suddenly paused the recording as she pondered this. This seemed to confirm completely that Horizontal Gene Transfer was at play in both directions now. It could give plant genes to animals just as easily as it gave animal genes to plants. Perhaps there was an evolutionary advantage in blending together the best traits of multiple species? If the cat could now photosynthesize in addition to its other metabolic pathways then this seemed like a potent upgrade to its ability to harvest energy. The question was now this: how did it know which traits were positive and worthy of adopting, and which were negative and should be rejected? Liz pondered this for a few moments before remembering that the transformation was still ongoing and returning her attention to it. The cat was by now nearly finished with its water bowl, so she tapped the key on her controls to remotely order the tank to dispense more. Raw curiosity and fascination were egging her on and making her forget the risks implicit in letting it grow as much as the first subject.

"28 minutes and 17 seconds elapsed, subject has completely consumed the initial 250ml of water in its dish while the new leaves on its back have taken shape. Each leaf is maxing at about 10cm and seems to be motile and dextrous like the tentacles on the first subject. I'm dispensing more water now... Subject continues to drink, though now it is occasionally switching to eating food between gulps of water too. I suspect it needs nutrient intake to go with the water it's drinking and the photosynthetic energy its leaves are absorbing. The earlier body shape alterations are continuing, though they are difficult to describe with words. I will attach video files from the test chamber recorders to supplement this log. But overall I'd say the body mass of the cat seems to be increasing as long as I continue to provide sufficient food, water, and light."

Liz paused her recording and watched as the cat's lower legs seemed to thicken and grow longer. For now it was just speculation, but it almost seemed like it was preparing to change from a quadrupedal form to a bipedal one. Then she heard a strange sound through the speakers that were connected to the lab's inner microphones. Purring. The cat was purring.

"Well I'll be damned. I guess you really aren't suffering are you?" Liz mumbled.